EL PASO, Texas — Once bursting at the seams with migrants, several shelters in El Paso have suspended operations due to a sharp decrease in asylum seekers sent their way by federal immigration agencies.
The Catholic Diocese of El Paso closed its shelter on June 14 and churches are no longer being tasked with finding safe places for families, a diocese spokesman said.
Annunciation House continues to receive migrants from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), but it no longer needs to accommodate overflow crowds in hotels.
“Since two weeks back we have been seeing a fast decline in the number of refugees received,” said Ruben Garcia. “We closed down our hotel option, we deactivated the church shelters… only our direct shelters are operating.”
Annunciation House earlier was getting 700 to 800 migrants per day “and sometimes 1,000” from ICE, Garcia said. The nonprofit on Tuesday only received 80, and on Wednesday was expecting another 80.
Garcia said ICE has not given him an explanation for the drastically reduced number of migrants being released into shelters.
He suspects its a combination of factors: more migrants being sent to wait out their hearings in Mexico; the Mexican National Guard preventing many from reaching the border; and the onset of hot weather that discourages travel by foot.
Mexico, under threat of commercial tariffs from the Trump administration, on June 18 deployed its newly created National Guard to the Guatemala-Mexico border, and days later to the border with the United States. The Guard’s mission is to stop unauthorized migrants. Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan last week said apprehensions of undocumented migrants would be down 25% for June, compared to May, and he credited Mexico for that.
“There’s an increased capacity in Mexico for preventing refugees from getting to our border. Also, the MPP program is returning 175 to 200 people (daily) that could otherwise be here,” Garcia said. “And also, this is just conjecture, their (the migrants’) thinking when things get complicated is to stand back, to see if things are going to calm down.”
MPP stands for Migrant Protection Protocols, a program also known as Remain in Mexico that requires asylum seekers to wait in Juarez for their next appointment in El Paso federal court.
Migrant advocates say other — often brutal — factors are playing into this “perfect storm” coming between people and their dream of obtaining asylum in the United States.
Crime, long waits force migrants to give up
On Tuesday two busloads of Central American migrants left a shelter in Juarez headed for an immigration processing center in Mexico City.
The migrants, many of whom had made a 2,000-mile trip from their homes in Honduras, Guatemala or El Salvador, gave up for lack of money, fear of criminals or fear of their asylum claim not being approved, according to Mexican officials.
It is the fear of crime and the lack of access to basic human needs that often horrifies and discourages asylum seekers in the Migrant Protection Protocols, migrant advocates say.
“We know that many of migrants in Juarez have faced challenges waiting for their court dates. These challenges include attempted kidnappings, actual kidnappings, attempted rape, violent theft,” said Marisa Limon, deputy director of the Hope Border Institute of El Paso.
Some 6,700 migrants have been sent from El Paso to Juarez under the MPP program so far. In addition, another 3,500 to 4,000 are in Juarez awaiting their initial asylum interview in El Paso.
Juarez has half a dozen active shelters run by nonprofit groups or churches, and most of them are full. That means many migrants find themselves out on the street or pooling resources to share run-down hotel rooms or apartments in high-crime areas.
“With an influx of 6,000 people without access to work, food, shelter or legal assistance, they are a vulnerable population and may not want to endure a long wait there. They also know it’s not just one court date, that their (asylum) process may extend for months,” Limon said. “I think all of these different things, plus maybe the treatment they endured in (ICE custody), paints a picture of why someone may choose to return to their country of origin even though they may have a strong case.”
The months-long wait is a financial hardship for people that fled their countries with little money and may find crime in some Juarez neighborhoods just as bad or worse than back home, she said.
“One woman specifically asked to be removed from the MPP program because if she were killed in Juarez, her children would have no family to take care of them,” Limon said. “But back in their home country, they have family, so if she were killed there — which is a horrific thing to think about — they would have someone to care for them. Her reasoning was, ‘is it better for me to die here or somewhere else?’ These families are having to make incredibly difficult decisions.”