Surge of migrant families taps out CBP, strains community resources in El Paso

Some migrants must wait days before their families are able to purchase plane flights for them. With what little belongings they have, these migrants arrive at El Paso International Airport. (Photo by Julian Hernandez/Cronkite News)

Inside Camino de Vida, associate pastor Israel Cabrera discusses flight and bus departures with migrants. Their destinations are across the United States. (Photo by Julian Hernandez/Cronkite News)

After many days in federal custody and at the church, migrants prepare to depart to their final destinations, often with family across the country. (Photo by Julian Hernandez/Cronkite News)

A mother and daughter dropped off at El Paso International Airport wait to board a flight to Chicago, where they will join family. (Photo by Julian Hernandez/Cronkite News)

Rosario Ramirez, a member of Caminos de Vida Church for more than a decade, helps feed migrants released from detention and provides what comfort she can to all who pass through the church doors. (Photo by Julian Hernandez/Cronkite News)

EL PASO – As the surge of migrant families at the border continues, federal officials and local organizations continue to struggle in their efforts to process and shelter all those arriving in El Paso in huge numbers.

Although the temporary detention camp under the Paso Del Norte International Bridge has been closed and the people held there relocated, the Department of Homeland Security said a lack of resources is slowing the processing of flow of migrants.

Israel Cabrera, the associate pastor at Caminos de Vida Church, said his congregation has been able to take in hundreds of migrant families over the several past weeks, but they don’t have enough resources to house them for more than a few days at a time.

Despite the challenges, Cabrera says it is their mission to help the migrants, most of whom are from Central America.

“We can’t change policy, but we can keep them from being homeless and on the street,” he said.

In a letter last week, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen wrote that Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement “are not equipped to deal with the volume of vulnerable populations that are reaching our territory.” Homeland Security facilities are “maxed out,” she said, and the immigration enforcement system has reached “the point of a systemwide breakdown.”

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In addition, CBP said in a statement that it “is transferring all of the illegal aliens being held temporarily at the transition location under the Paso Del Norte International Bridge to El Paso Station until they can be processed.”

CBP said the migrants were moved to a location “with more space and more shelter” but would not say where. CBP said the building adjacent to the dirt lot beneath the bridge, which spans the Rio Grande, will continue to serve as a processing facility. CBP also would not confirm whether those who were detained under the bridge have applied for asylum.

The El Paso area has seen the largest increase of apprehension of families along the southern border. CBP agents have apprehended 18 times more migrant families in the El Paso area in the first five months of fiscal 2019, which begins on Oct. 1 and ends on Sept. 30, compared with the first five months of fiscal 2018, according to the latest CBP numbers. Since October 2018, CBP agents have apprehended 36,298 migrants traveling as a family.

Meanwhile, local organizations also continue to struggle with the flow of humanity through El Paso each month.

Migrants continue to be dropped off by CBP outside of the Greyhound bus station, where they must wait outside because they don’t have tickets. Local volunteers and residents often wait outside the station to assist migrants in contacting one of the local organizations that can house the migrants temporarily.