Dec 23, 2022 - Politics & Policy

El Paso scrambles to help migrants in Christmas border crisis

Migrants outside the Greyhound bus station near the U.S. and Mexico border in El Paso, Texas. Photo: Eric Thayer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Immigrant groups and volunteers in El Paso, Texas, are working overtime this Christmas season to help a massive wave of migrants and asylum-seekers endure the historic arctic freeze that's sweeping the United States.

Why it matters: "Everybody's working as quickly as possible to make sure that those facilities are available," said Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), who represents El Paso.

Driving the news: This year already looks like a record December for border crossings in El Paso, fueled in part by the potentially imminent end of Title 42, the Trump-era pandemic policy that allowed border officials to quickly expel migrants.

  • There have been roughly 12,800 Border Patrol encounters in El Paso in just the past seven days, according to city data.
  • The mayor of El Paso declared a state of emergency on Saturday, and Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Texas) sent the National Guard to the El Paso border area.

Zoom out: U.S. immigration and emergency agencies have long relied on a network of nongovernment organizations across the border — often with religious ties — to provide initial housing, resources and services to migrants awaiting asylum and immigration court hearings.

  • The Red Cross is currently on the hunt for facilities to set up emergency shelter operations that could sleep up to 10,000 people, Escobar told Axios.
  • The local Catholic diocese is also set to open up additional space in the city to hold roughly 800 migrants and asylum-seekers.
  • HOPE Border Institute staff had planned to take a few weeks at the end of the year to recharge. "Now, that's not possible," Dylan Corbett, the founding executive director of the group, told Axios.
  • One site in a network of shelters has been working with two local hotels to host the overflow of migrants, especially those waiting to travel given the holiday transportation rush, Border Servant Corps executive director Kari Lenander told Axios.

Some hospitality sites are preparing holiday meals and religious services to offer to migrants in their care during the Christmas season, said Ruben Garcia, director of Annunciation House, which coordinates a network of shelters in the El Paso area holding hundreds of migrants and asylum-seekers.

  • At a Border Servant Corps site in Las Cruces, New Mexico, team members have volunteered to be "bilingual Santa" for the roughly 100 migrant kids they receive every day, Lenander said.
  • They are celebrating on Christmas Day, as well as the days before and after, so more kids can take part and receive gifts sponsored by Save the Children for their first Christmas in America.

What they're saying: Some see migrants and asylum-seekers offering Americans a lesson about hope for the holiday season.

  • "I worry that we in the United States, we don’t really know what hope is because many of us have not really experienced desperation," Garcia told Axios.
  • "When people in the shelters get together, they are absolutely wanting to join in prayer services," Garcia added. "They want to talk about how they feel safe. ... 'God has allowed me to be safe and it’s Christmas.'"
  • Corbett sees no alternative to giving up his break to continue helping migrants and asylum-seekers. "That's what Christmas is about," Corbett said. "It's about God interrupting, and it's about God coming as the stranger and disrupting plans."

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