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A mural inside of Casa del Refugiado in El Paso, Texas. Photo: Stef Kight/Axios

Despite the separation between church and state, the federal government depends upon religious shelters to help it cope with migration at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Why it matters: The network supports the U.S. in times of crisis, but now some shelter leaders are complaining about expelling families to Mexico when they have capacity — and feel a higher calling — to accommodate them.

  • "They're human beings. They're here in my community, and they need help," said Sister Norma Pimentel, who runs Catholic Charities in the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas.
  • Axios interviewed Sister Norma after a visit to the Southwest that included stops on both sides of the border.

The big picture: Catholic and Protestant churches in both the United States and Mexico have built a network during the last few years to offer temporary shelter to migrants. Volunteers help them arrange travel plans, provide them food and offer donations of clothes and toiletries.

  • Migrants at a shelter in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, told Axios that church-based shelters gave them temporary housing along the way and suggested names of places should they make it to the U.S.
  • Only two of more than a dozen shelters in Ciudad Juárez are government-run — most are run by religious groups.
  • U.S. churches have organized efforts to house migrant children 250 miles north near Santa Fe, New Mexico, with volunteers to speak in Spanish and Portuguese.

Organizers say that despite record migrant numbers this year, they are not as overrun as in 2019.

Why it matters: Ruben Garcia, director of Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas, expressed frustration the Biden administration continues expelling families to Mexico.

  • He said his shelters are at low capacity by their standards, and there are newly opened hotels under contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement for families.

What's happening: Sister Norma told Axios her shelters have been receiving 400 to 800 migrants from the Border Patrol each day, mostly parents and children.

  • Despite that influx, "I haven't seen the numbers as high as 2019," she said, adding it may be because the Border Patrol presence is sending some migrants to other sections of the border.

A plane or two holding about 135 migrants who crossed in South Texas is being sent to other border areas like El Paso and Laredo, Texas, and San Diego, California, each day, Garcia explained.

  • Annunciation House shelters take in 30 to 35 of those migrants sent to El Paso, while the rest are expelled into Ciudad Juárez. Many expelled migrants do not understand where they are being sent.
  • Garcia doesn't know how the ratio was decided or who made the call. The lack of transparency about who is making decisions and why is "one of the most frustrating parts," he said.

Between the lines: Garcia talked about volunteers flying from all over the U.S. to help and read Axios texts from other organizations ready to assist.

  • "I am writing to let you know that we are preparing to assist when you need to send buses our way," Garcia read from one advocate who represented five religious groups who also assisted in 2019.
  • But there is also pushback. Sister Norma said that for weeks now, they have had 10 to 12 men protesting their work, accusing them of participating in human trafficking.

How you can help: Annunciation House, Catholic Charities RGV and HOPE Border Institute.

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

First fatality confirmed in downtown Austin mass shooting

Police barricades near the scene of a shooting in Austin, Texas, on Saturday. Photo: Sergio Flores/Getty Images

A 25-year-old man died Sunday of injuries sustained in a mass shooting that wounded 13 other people in downtown Austin, Texas, the previous day, police confirmed.

Driving the news: Austin police named the victim as Douglas John Kantor, as they continued to search for one of two suspects. One suspect was taken into custody on Saturday following the shooting on 6th Street, a popular area with bars and restaurants.

Pelosi demands Barr and Sessions testify on data subpoenas

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during an event San Francisco, California, on Friday. Photo: Miikka Skaffari/Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told CNN Sunday that former Attorneys General William Barr and Jeff Sessions should testify before Congress on reports that the Trump-era Department of Justice seized Democrats' and journalists' data records.

Driving the news: DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz announced Friday an internal investigation into the matter, and Pelosi expressed disbelief to CNN's Dana Bash at assertions that neither Barr nor Sessions knew of probes into lawmakers.

Updated 3 hours ago - World

Netanyahu is out as new Israeli government survives confidence vote

Photo: Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP via Getty Images

Israel has a new prime minister for the first time since 2009 after a power-sharing government led by Naftali Bennett survived a confidence vote on Sunday. Bennett was sworn in as prime minister.

Why it matters: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving prime minister and the man around whom Israeli politics have revolved for a decade, will now become opposition leader. Bennett, a right-wing former Netanyahu protege, will lead the most ideologically diverse government in Israeli history.