EL PASO — Churches in Denver and Dallas are planning to take in hundreds of migrants a week to relieve the strain on southern border communities that are struggling with an influx of Central American families.
A busload of 55 migrants who had been arrested by U.S. border authorities and were then released into the United States left Las Cruces, N.M., on Sunday afternoon bound for Denver, where it arrived at about 2 a.m. Monday and left people in the care of three churches, according to the office of New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), which paid $4,000 for the bus to help ease the burden on cities in the southern part of the state.
Lujan Grisham accused the Trump administration of creating a humanitarian crisis, focusing more on a physical border barrier than on the people who are seeking to flee persecution and extreme poverty in Central American countries.
“Their focus has been just on the political debate and the political investment for a wall and no other immigration investments for border security,” Lujan Grisham said. “They leave states like ours in really precarious positions, and we’re showing folks we can lead and problem-solve. We figured out a way to get 55 folks out of Las Cruces and to Denver. We’re going to continue to do everything like that that we can in the short term.”
The crush of migrants at the border has presented as a major problem for the U.S. government, which has been unable to stem the flow with a variety of policy approaches. Detention bed space is over capacity, Border Patrol stations have been overwhelmed, and local communities from California to Texas have been unable to handle the release of thousands of migrants.
The number of migrants being released in the neighboring cities of Las Cruces and El Paso “now regularly exceeds 1,000 refugees per day, a number that has become almost overwhelming,” said Ruben Garcia, the founder and executive director of Annunciation House, an El Paso nonprofit that helps shelter migrants. “To be able to transfer refugees to the cities of Dallas and Denver, where faith communities can be invited to help receive and host refugees, is a critically important need if relief is to be provided to El Paso and Las Cruces.”
The migrants sent to Denver were part of a group of more than 100 people who were released by the Border Patrol to the streets of Las Cruces on Friday because the shelter network in the city of 100,000 people was over capacity.
“These small communities and small nonprofits just don’t have the resources or the volunteers, the sheer numbers that they need, to continue to respond,” Lujan Grisham said.
Last Thursday, Border Patrol agents in the El Paso sector — which includes far west Texas and all of New Mexico — took custody of more than 1,700 migrants who had crossed the border, one of the largest daily totals in the sector’s history.
The decision by Annunciation House to bus migrants to inland cities is the latest sign of the burden the migrant influx is placing on enforcement agencies and nonprofits on the border. The Washington Post reported on Saturday that the Border Patrol has begun flying migrants from McAllen, Tex., to Del Rio, Tex., for processing because McAllen resources are overwhelmed.
Garcia has asked Immigration and Customs Enforcement to bus migrants to church networks he established in Denver and Dallas, but he said the agency has told him that regulations prohibit transporting migrants more than eight hours. Denver and Dallas are 10 to 12 hours from El Paso by bus.
Lujan Grisham also criticized the Trump administration for not doing more to move migrants to places where they could more quickly get plane or bus tickets to join family.
Department of Homeland Security officials said the administration “will continue to coordinate with stakeholders in local communities, including other law enforcement agencies, elected officials, and nongovernmental organizations, as DHS employs a ‘whole of government’ approach to confronting the ongoing crisis.”
Churches in Dallas and Denver will cover the costs for feeding and sheltering migrants while they are there, Lujan Grisham said. Garcia said migrants usually spend one or two days in a shelter while families arrange and pay for transportation.
Although the cost of the first bus to Denver was borne by New Mexico taxpayers, Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Claudia Tristán said the governor’s office is seeking philanthropic help to pay for future buses.
“The goal is to have buses like this travel once a week to Denver and once a week to Dallas. And we’re hoping to get about two to three buses for each trip,” Tristán said, indicating that 100 to 150 people a week would be sent to each city. “And we are looking for donors far and wide to help fund this so that the only role that the state will play from here forward is just logistically getting those buses in place.”
Moore is a freelance journalist based in El Paso.