EAGLE PASS, Texas (Border Report) — Inside the only migrant shelter in this remote South Texas border town, asylum-seekers are crammed arm to arm on picnic tables, colorful undersized children’s plastic chairs and donated wooden church pews waiting for transportation and other help.
The Mission Border Hope warehouse-style facility is noisy. The concrete floors are bare.
Information is posted on one wall-sized billboard with dos and don’ts in America.
And all anyone wants is to find a way out of this dusty border town and get to U.S. cities beyond.
“We help them to do their travel arrangements so they can go to their final destinations. An average length of stay is five to eight hours. We offer meals, showers … we offer clothing, hygiene kits so they can wait. We have technology so they can communicate with their family members,” Mission Border Hope Executive Director Valeria Wheeler told Border Report.
A long line of people waits with cellphones in hand for transportation advice from volunteers who are overworked and outnumbered.
Over 500 people per day are currently being released to this faith-based nonprofit affiliated with the United Methodist Church.
They are already at maximum capacity, Wheeler said.
But if Title 42 is lifted on Monday, as the Biden administration plans, then she believes they will be overrun.
“We’ve increased our capacity already and we have anticipated the increase of numbers for next week. Hopefully, we will be able to serve a lot of people,” Wheeler said via phone.
She has been coordinating with transportation companies to get more buses so they can move migrants out of town quicker so they can get more migrants into their facility, if needed she said.
Wheeler was out of town this week attending family graduation ceremonies. And she joked that she was glad to get away now because she believes they are in for a rough ride next week if Title 42 is revoked.
But that’s not entirely certain.
A federal judge in Louisiana is considering a lawsuit by Texas and dozens of other states that wants Title 42 to remain. Title 42 is a public health order issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in March 2020, under the Trump administration, to stop the spread of coronavirus between U.S. borders. It allows the Department of Homeland Security to immediately expel back migrants to Mexico, or Canada, or their home countries if they try to cross into the United States without authorization.
Most of the migrants at this shelter are from Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti, Honduras and African countries. Wheeler says they also receive migrants who enter at the ports of entry, such as Mexicans, “but that’s a very few.”
Most of the migrants are processed by the Department of Homeland Security at the newly built Eagle Pass Centralized Processing Center, a couple miles inland. This is one of eight or nine new soft-sided tent facilities being built along the Southwest border — from San Diego to the Rio Grande Valley — for multi-agencies to be housed in one area to more quickly question, process, assess and refer asylum-seekers.
Another one-stop-shop processing facility is located about three hours southeast near Rio Bravo, Texas, outside of Laredo.
Since Title 42 went into effect, migrants have been sent back over 1.9 million times.
But if it goes away, then migrants who cross U.S. borders illegally will be processed under Title 8, a long-standing immigration law that requires full processing, which could take days. Asylum-seekers will be asked if they have a credible fear to return to their home countries, and if they do they most likely will be allowed to remain in the United States.
Wheeler says she will need much more food, clothing, hygiene items and most importantly — transportation to take the migrants from this border town that is located across the Rio Grande from Piedras Negras, Mexico.
Eagle Pass is located within the Tamaulipan thorn scrub just outside the Chihuahua Desert, in an area where palm trees and dirt fields meet.
Triple-digit afternoons are a daily occurrence.
There is no bus station or flights out of here .
Buses leave from a business on what is called “the Loop” to San Antonio.
And lately, taxis, vans and even Uber drivers are arriving from as far away as Houston and San Antonio to take people away, Eagle Pass Mayor Pro Tem Yolanda Perales-Ramon told Border Report.
She said her town of 28,000 residents is being overrun by migrants.
“My granddaughter doesn’t want to go to Walmart because she is scared of so many new faces,” Perales-Ramon said Thursday as she stood on the banks of the Rio Grande, across the border from a cavalcade of Mexican police and military vehicles.
“For us, it’s a very sad situation,” said Perales-Ramon, a middle school principal. “With the lifting of Title 42 it would just double or triple those numbers. We really don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com