EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — El Paso is seeing a decrease in migrant encounters, according to Border Patrol, but some continue to camp out on city streets.
In the first week in January, the average number of daily encounters is 760 in the El Paso Sector compared to the month of December, when the average was 1,800 daily encounters. The El Paso Sector also includes the U.S.-Mexico border throughout New Mexico.
The same goes for migrants in custody. The first week in January, the average was just under 1,000 in custody and for the month of December it was 1,450.
With less migrants being encountered, shelters are less crowded. The director of the Opportunity Center for the Homeless, John Martin, says during the last few days at the Welcome Center, where they house migrants, there were 50 or 60 people compared to a few weeks ago when they had 150.
“Last night, because we had space within the facility, our street outreach team went out to Father Rahm by Sacred Heart (Church) and we brought 20 family members in. I think it was a total of four, possibly five families, that we brought in and so our numbers are back up,” Martin said.
While the Opportunity Center was able to take in some, many migrants continue to camp outside of Sacred Heart Church in South El Paso.
Some of the migrants camping outside the church are undocumented and have not been processed by Border Patrol. But Martin adds that their status doesn’t hinder them from staying at the Opportunity Center when there is room.
“We serve all without distinction and that includes country of origin and so whether they’re local, international, whether they’re documented or undocumented, that has no bearing with regard to the individuals we receive. If we are in a situation to turn away people, it’s simply because we don’t have physical space to serve them,” Martin said.
However, not every shelter does accept undocumented migrants. The executive director for the Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services says there is a restriction for shelters that receive funding through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) — that they are not able to serve undocumented migrants.
“Anyone who enters the country without permission, so between the ports of entry is, unfortunately, unable to be housed in any of the shelters that have FEMA funding,” said Melissa M. Lopez, the executive director for DMRS.
She added that another issue for shelters are the legal possible legal ramifications for helping undocumented migrants.
“The State of Texas, through the Governor’s Office, has taken the position, a pretty hard position, that individuals that even transporting somebody, driving somebody perhaps from the shelter to the airport, could be considered harboring or participating in smuggling in some way,” Lopez said.
While encounters are down in El Paso, over in Juarez shelters are filling up as migrants from Venezuela are being expelled out of the United States back to Mexico.
“Right now we’re full. We have no more space. We’re going to make more room on the family side next month and we’ll be able to receive more people. But even with that new section that we’re going to open up, we don’t have the capacity to receive many more people,” said Juan Fierro, the pastor of Albergue El Buen Samartiano, a migrant shelter in Juarez.
A migrant from Venezuela, expelled back to Mexico, explained that he was caught by immigration authorities.
“I’m hoping the president doesn’t do that and that he helps us because there’s a lot of us, a lot of men who are migrating for a better future. We have our kids in Venezuela. All of us are from Venezuela and we need help because we are here suffering. And to top it off immigration gets us and deports us to a different town,” said Julio Marquez, a migrant from Venezuela.