JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) – The welcome balloons are in place and the new metal bunk beds look sturdy. But a chicken pox outbreak and a near-empty pantry are keeping people from occupying the newly furnished annex at one of the largest migrant shelters in the city.

“It is not just ‘open the doors and let them in.’ We have to provide for all the individuals and all of the families that we commit to assist,” said the Rev. Juan Fierro, director of Good Samaritan shelter in Juarez.

He said the shelter has sufficient donations of personal hygiene products and cleaning supplies. But food is in short supply now that Mexican authorities are trying to get hundreds of Venezuelans off the streets during cold nights and onto shelters.

Fierro has used community donations to upgrade Good Samaritan several times. It can now accommodate 60 people comfortably. On Monday, it was two short of 100, with more migrants knocking on the door every hour.

“We need the basics: rice, beans, cooking oil, eggs, oatmeal, lentils. […] Children consume a lot of cereal, so we need that too. And milk, especially the kind you don’t need to keep in the freezer,” he said.

Despite a steep drop in migrant apprehensions at the U.S. border – federal immigration officials on Tuesday reported 732 migrant encounters to the City of El Paso, compared to 1,800 daily encounters in early January – foreign nationals stuck in Juarez are not leaving and new ones continue to arrive, Mexican officials say.

The record sustained migrant presence in Juarez since last September is what prompted Fierro to remodel into an annex the empty building across from Good Samaritan.

Metal pillars hold in place an upstairs dormitory. Dozens of new beds donated by United Nations agencies sport blue blankets on the top floor, yellow on the bottom. The annex has cameras and temperature controls.

“This will be a family area soon […] or a space to isolate new arrivals in the meantime,” Fierro said, referring to a chicken pox outbreak he is dealing with at the main shelter. Three Venezuelan teens and a child came down with the illness last week; a Guatemalan girl who possibly was patient zero is now clear of symptoms that include an itchy red skin rash.

Venezuelans not giving up on American dream

Andrew, a Venezuelan migrant whose family has been staying at Good Samaritan for the past two months, has avoided contagion and is hopeful of being allowed to enter the United States in two weeks.

He came to Mexico from South America with his wife, three children, his brother, his nephew, his sister-in-law and her sons. The group decided not to turn themselves over to the U.S. Border Patrol at the Rio Grande like many of his countrymen did last month only to be expelled to Mexico under the Title 42 public health order.

Andrew and his family successfully scheduled an initial interview at the Paso del Norte International Bridge using the CBP One app. The remote asylum application process is the cornerstone of the Biden administration’s response to thousands of foreign nationals showing up between ports of entry prior to Jan. 5. Those who cross between ports of entry now can lose the chance to get an asylum interview.

Andrew (Border Report photo)

“It was very hard at first, but it seems to be working now. We have a March 4 appointment,” he said, adding he left Venezuela due to low-paying jobs and political favoritism that favors President Nicolas Maduro supporters and ostracizes and often persecutes critics.

Andrew said he wants to pursue personal goals and achieve financial stability for his family in the United States – things out of reach for him in his country.

“What have we gone through? Everything you see in the news: hunger and heat, the jungle, going from one country to the next, poor treatment” from locals, he said. “But the Mexican people here have treated us well and we thank them. The only ones that have not treated us well are the police and the (Mexican) National Guard.”  

Andrew also thanked Fierro for working around the clock to provide for those who find themselves in dire straits just a short distance away from their dream of making it to the United States.

Fierro said he is now indefinitely extending the amount of time for migrants eligible to apply for U.S. asylum using the CBP One app. “They should not be going from one place to another while they wait. They should be in a safe place,” he said.

To contact Fierrro, call (011-52) 656-345-2692.