Hundreds of Migrants Flown to El Paso to Ease Overcrowding Amid Pandemic

Hundreds of migrant families are being flown into El Paso, Texas, from the south of the state by the Department of Homeland Security to help ease overcrowding at facilities in the Rio Grande Valley related to the pandemic, as the Biden administration readies its immigration plan.

On Monday, officials and migrant advocates in El Paso said as many as two flights will arrive daily, each carrying up to 135 migrants. Of the roughly 270 people flown to El Paso on Monday, most of them were families, including some young children.

In addition, each day, 50 more asylum seekers are being returned from neighbouring city Juarez, in Mexico, after being taken out of the Migration Protection Protocols (MPP) program. Those on the MPP program need to test negative for COVID-19 before being transferred to America, while those flying in from South Texas will be tested on arrival El Paso.

Ruben Garcia, executive director of non-profit Annunciation House in El Paso, told Border Report that his organization temporarily houses new arrivals. He has previously said his volunteer organization's largest shelter could house up to 300 people.

Garcia said that the transfers to El Paso are due to non-profits in the Rio Grande Valley being overwhelmed with the new arrivals, adding that migrants typically stay one to four days in the city before leaving when their relatives, friends or sponsors send them money for a bus or flight.

Garcia said he doesn't know how long the transfers will last for, or whether policy of releasing newly arrived families with children under 6 years old will change and extend to El Paso.

"From the perspective of an organization like Annunciation House it is very important to get an answer to that because, as we plan what the next weeks or months are going to look like, it would let us know that we could conceivably see something similar happen here on our border," he said.

Churches, local organizations and individuals support Annunciation House, which according to its website, is looking to recruit volunteers to help provide hospitality for refugees coming into the U.S.

"The El Paso community is an extremely generous and conscientious community. As a result, we are able to do this in a very smooth way," Garcia said.

However, residents have been divided over a former Alzheimer treatment center in West El Paso that is now being used to shelter child migrants. Around half of the residents who spoke to CBS4 said they were against the change, citing concerns around traffic and property values in the neighborhood.

"I don't know why it has to be in the neighborhood. I don't feel it's a good location for the situation and it might be a lot of cars, more traffic and things and I'm not happy with it," said one resident, speaking on condition of anonymity. "They should be at the bridge waiting for parents or they should be somewhere else I think."

Newsweek has contacted the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection for comment on the migrant transfers.

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) said on Monday that migrants are also being transferred to Laredo, but he did not say how many.

"This is a crisis for our local communities," Cuellar said in a statement. "Non-profits and local governments, who are already struggling from the pandemic, are scrounging for COVID-19 tests, food, and housing for these migrants. It is critical that we provide them with emergency resources so they can properly support these migrant children and families."

Cuellar said on March 4 that the United States was unprepared to handle the surge in migrants amid the pandemic. He urged the Biden administration to listen and work with communities on the southern border who are dealing with the influx.

Last month, nearly 100,000 migrants were detained at the southwest border by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents, Reuters reported. The last time this number was above 90,000 was in June 2019.

President Joe Biden, who has promised a more humane immigration system than his predecessor Donald Trump, is facing the first big test of his immigration policy, and more than 3,250 children are now detained at the U.S.-Mexico border. That number has tripled in two weeks.

Central American migrants flee to El Paso
Migrants cross the Rio Bravo to get to El Paso, Texas, from Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state, Mexico on February 5, 2021. Hundreds of migrant families are being flown in to El Paso, Texas from the south of the state by the Department of Homeland Security to help ease overcrowding at facilities in the Rio Grande Valley related to the pandemic. Herika Martinez/Getty