McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — One of the first stops that Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas made Thursday in the Rio Grande Valley was the Humanitarian Respite Center migrant shelter, where the number of asylum-seekers streaming in is increasing daily.
Mayorkas got a first-hand look as migrants came through the facility seeking clothes, shelter, food and travel advice. And he met with Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, which runs the shelter, as well as other local nonprofits that help migrants.
Pimentel said it was Mayorkas’ first visit to the center, and she said he asked a lot of questions, especially as Title 42 is set to end next week and the number of migrants crossing the border is expected to increase dramatically.
“It was so good to see him here at the border and to visit with us,” Pimentel told Border Report just a couple of hours after the secretary’s visit. “He just wanted to make sure that we have what we need to help these families so that we can be part of a response here in the U.S. side, to make sure that it doesn’t become a problem to the cities, to these communities.”
“We just sat and chat with one another with no rush. He’s just like, ‘I want to hear from you. What do you have to say? How can I help you?’ We were able to share how we operate out what it is that we do and what are the difficulties we’re facing. Personally, I shared the difficulties we see in families trying to apply for the CBP One, and what those struggles are. And he was listening,” she said.
The Department of Homeland Security earlier this year ordered that asylum-seekers to apply for asylum interviews on the CBP One app, but ever since its release, there has been a litany of problems. It didn’t translate into Creole; said it couldn’t face recognition; it has a short range south of the border, and more.
DHS has told Border Report they are working on the app and most of those problems are fixed, or being repaired. But Pimentel said she stressed that it is still very difficult for asylum-seekers waiting in Mexico to gain access to the app and to make appointments, especially as family groups.
She says she also told Mayorkas that the Biden administration needs to improve how it tracks children and adults who get separated after crossing the border.
That can involve at least two agencies — DHS holds and handles adults; while Health and Human Services cares for unaccompanied minors.
But Pimentel says too often she has come across adults who claim they have lost a child and it’s very difficult to track the child and pair them up. In another case, a daughter was over 18 and being held as an adult away from the rest of her family.
“And so addressing how do we keep the family unit together? You know how important it is not to separate a family unit. If especially they are family. And so he took note of that. And he says definitely, there are some things that we must address,” she said.
Currently, the Humanitarian Respite Center is helping about 500 migrants per day; that’s up from about 150 at the start of the year. But Pimentel says she expects 2,000, or more after May 11 when Title 42 ends.
Title 42 is the public health order put in place in March 2020 under the Trump administration that has restricted migrants from claiming asylum at the U.S. border in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19 during the pandemic. The health order is set to lift on May 11 and upwards of 13,000 migrants per day are expected to cross the border from Mexico to claim asylum in the United States.
“It’s already happening,” Pimentel said. “We’re already seeing the effects of Title 42 being lifted.”
Pimentel says the Respite Center can hold 1,500 people, but she said there is a network of other churches, groups and families that have offered to help house any overflow of migrants.
“I am concerned the fact that numbers will go up. But we’ve been there before. And I think we know how to do the job so that we can make sure that people are cared for properly, and that it doesn’t become a burden to the city or to the community,” she said. “We can work together to make sure that people are safe. That’s my immediate concern. I care about families I care about individuals, especially the most vulnerable, that they’re safe and they’re protected and they are helped to move forward in their process of what they’re doing in the United States. They have gotten permission to be here in the United States. Now let’s help them get to their final destination and let them continue that legal. process.”
Mayorkas is spending Friday in the Rio Grande Valley and will hold a news conference on Friday afternoon in Brownsville. Border Report plans to cover the event.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com