McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The United States will rely heavily on non-governmental organizations and those offering humanitarian relief to help execute its plan to bring in thousands of asylum-seekers who have been stuck in Mexico under the Migrant Protection Protocols program, several border leaders said.
On Friday morning, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas officially announced that some people in the program will finally be allowed to go through the asylum process inside the United States starting next week.
Border Report late Thursday reported that starting on Feb. 19, about 300 migrants per day will be considered for release from MPP, which has forced thousands to wait out the asylum process in Mexico. This will occur at three ports of entry in San Ysidro, Calif.; El Paso, Texas, and Brownsville, Texas, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, who is vice chairman of the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee said.
In order to make this successfully happen during this coronavirus pandemic, the government will require the assistance of dozens of nonprofit organizations (NGOs) along the Southwest border. These NGOs will help migrants to fill out online applications and submit necessary paperwork to be considered for release into the United States, Cuellar said during a news conference with leaders of several border nonprofits who pledged to help Friday morning.
“They’ll be working under very hard different circumstances,” Cuellar said. “They will be handling 300 or less individuals and, as Sister Norma said, they’ll need to help to make it orderly.”
Sister Norma Pimentel, the executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley who oversees the volunteers helping migrants at a refugee camp in Matamoros, Mexico, said her staff and volunteers will help to ensure everyone safely comes across who is cleared to come across and help to get them to their destinations quickly and with little burden on border communities. There are over 1,000 asylum-seekers who have lived in the tent encampment across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas, for many months, some for almost two years since the Trump administration implemented MPP in July 2019 .
The volunteer organizations, like Team Brownsville, Angry Tias and Abuelas, the Sidewalk School for Children Asylum Seekers, the Resource Center for Asylum Seekers in Mexico, and Global Response Management have provided free meals, clothes, tents, equipment, education and health care. Now, Pimentel says they will also help the migrants to fill out online forms and prepare their applications and ready them for travel.
“Now with new changes just announced today we are looking to receive additional families with MPP, the first phase that will be processed now,” she said. “It’s import that people are safe, the people, the refugees, the agents at the forefront, the volunteers.”
“Networking and collaborating is key here,” said Javier Garcia, executive director of Bethany House, a homeless shelter that operates in Laredo. “We need to put our heads together and work together to help these families get from point A to point B.”
Representatives from several humanitarian groups said they have actually been holding Zoom and online meetings for several weeks since President Joe Biden was elected in order to prepare for an expected influx of asylum-seeking migrants coming into their communities. Biden campaigned on a promise to reform immigration policies to make them more humane and to end the MPP program, which he halted on his first day in office and has ordered DHS staff to conduct a top-to-bottom review.
DHS said that only migrants with active MPP cases will be considered for entry into the United States and all will be tested for coronavirus in Mexico. Any who are positive for the virus will remain in Mexico.
“As President Biden has made clear, the U.S. government is committed to rebuilding a safe, orderly, and humane immigration system,” Mayorkas said in a statement. “This latest action is another step in our commitment to reform immigration policies that do not align with our nation’s values. Especially at the border, however, where capacity constraints remain serious, changes will take time. Individuals who are not eligible under this initial phase should wait for further instructions and not travel to the border. Due to the current pandemic, restrictions at the border remain in place and will be enforced.”
Mayorkas called the effort a “whole-of-government approach” that will involve much assistance with “international partners” including the government of Mexico” and international and non-governmental organizations—to safely process eligible individuals to pursue their cases in the United States.”
Felicia Rangel-Samponaro, a co-director with the Sidewalk School for Children Asylum Seekers, which gives free classes to the migrant children in Matamoros told Border Report that their organization is what is called part of the “Welcoming Committee” to help incoming MPPs assimilate and meet whatever needs they have.
“The sisters stand ready,” said Sister Rose Mary Welsh, a nun who is executive director of Casa de Misericordia in Laredo. “We have lots of people we can mobilize.”
Pimentel told Border Report that she has had numerous online meetings and conference calls with the Biden transition team and she said they have listened to her concerns: namely not to release too many people all at once and overload volunteers, and to carefully screen all new arrivals for symptoms of coronavirus to keep border communities safe.
“I’m very encouraged to see the new administration working to see that this process is safe and legal and humane for all,” Pimentel said.
“I’m very happy,” Rangel-Samponaro said Thursday night upon hearing the news that Browsville was one of the ports where MPPs would cross into the United States. “It’s very religious overall inside the camp. A lot of ‘Thank you God,'” she said.
Pimentel’s organization also runs the Humanitarian Respite Center in downtown McAllen, Texas, a repurposed former night club that in early summer 2019 helped the 1,000 migrants the Border Patrol was releasing every day with a promise to appear in upcoming immigration court hearings. And for the past two weeks, the facility has been receiving from 50 to 150 released migrants.
She said this is because of dangerous conditions in the northern Mexican state of Tamaulipas, where drug cartels control much activity and that has resulted in Mexican officials refusing to take back migrants under the age of 7 or those with conditions, like pregnant women, who could suffer there.
Now, she said, handling just a hundred or so MPPs will be much easier. And she said she has spoken with Border Patrol officials who have said those not crossing at legal ports of entry .
Cuellar told Border Report that although Laredo isn’t in the first-tier of ports of entry to receive released MPPs, he said it is expected to receive them in the upcoming months.