EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Red Cross and church-based volunteers are trying to stem a developing humanitarian crisis on the Mexican side of a U.S. port of entry in El Paso, Texas.

Between 30 and 40 Mexican families, some with children under 2 years old, have been sitting and sleeping on a sidewalk near the Paso del Norte Bridge for the past six days, trying to request asylum in the United States. The families are fleeing drug violence in small towns in the West-Central states of Michoacan, Guerrero and Zacatecas, and are running out of food and money.

Mexican Red Cross workers tend to a woman who showed signs of dehydration Friday near the Paso del Norte Bridge. (photo by Julian Resendiz)

Red Cross workers on Friday provided health screenings and treated at least one person, an elderly woman, for heat-related symptoms. Volunteers with Migrant Support Network delivered sandwiches, water, milk, diapers, blankets and foam mats to the migrants.

“We are providing humanitarian aid to these families, evaluating their condition and seeing what they need for whatever time they will remain here,” said Christina Coronado, volunteer leader for Migrant Support Network.

Families with young children wait in Juarez for a chance to initiate asylum petitions in the United States. (photo by Julian Resendiz)

Several families interviewed by BorderReport.com in the past two days say they live in small towns where their relatives, friends and neighbors have been assaulted, forced to pay “protection” money or murdered by drug traffickers.

“I have a small hamburger restaurant in Sombrerete (Zacatecas) and some men came telling me to sell drugs in my business. I told them no. They got angry and left. They came back demanding money to let me stay in business,” said Jose B., who asked that his last name not be used for fear of retaliation.

Juan G. said he left his town of Juan Aldama, Zacatecas, after drug traffickers kidnapped his neighbor and nearly beat him to death.

Mexicans fleeing drug violence face uncertainty on the border. (photo by Julian Resendiz)

“He fled to the border but the men kept coming back to the neighborhood. We would see them all the time. My wife and I got scared and came here with our kids,” the father of two said. When asked if he sought the help of Mexican authorities, Juan G. said: “What for? They don’t do anything. They’re working with those guys.”

Ricardo G., from Rio Grande, Zacatecas, said he came to Juarez with his family because drug traffickers abducted two of his friends. “I know it’s hard for my family to be out here on the street, but we cannot go back,” said the farm worker in his mid-20s.

About half the people sitting and sleeping on the sidewalks near the Paso del Norte Bridge are children. (photo by Julian Resendiz)

All three men said they tried to walk over the Paso del Norte Bridge to seek asylum in the United States, but were turned back by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers. The men said they were told the agents who interview asylum seekers were busy processing Cubans and Central Americans, and that they needed to wait in Juarez.

“That’s why we are here waiting. We can’t go to the shelter because then we won’t be here when they (CBP) calls us,” said Ricardo G.

Some of the adults interviewed on Friday said they know of friends and relatives that are on the way to the border to ask for asylum in the U.S.

An issue of resources on the American side

CBP officials in El Paso said their ability to process migrants who come to surrender at the bridge depends on several factors.

“The Office of Field Operations will process whomever is at the queue when capacity allows.  However, when capacity exists and there is nobody at the queue, OFO will advise the (shelter system) in Mexico, who will then send subjects to the queue,” CBP said in a statement to BorderReport.com.

CBP says the number of “inadmissible individuals” it’s able to process varies based upon case complexity; available resources; medical needs; translation requirements; holding space and things like the volume of vehicles and pedestrians waiting for inspection. “As we have done for several years, when our ports of entry reach capacity, we have to manage the queues and individuals presenting without documents may need to wait in Mexico as CBP officers work to process those already within our facilities,” the statement said.

CBP says it must make the best use of its available resources and balance the flow of “legitimate trade and travel” with time for asylum seekers.

“CBP officers performing queue management operations at the international boundary line are not conducting primary inspections but rather making certain those who intend to apply have entry documents. If they do not and there is no space available at the CBP facility they are instructed to wait. Every month CBP officers in El Paso are processing hundreds of asylum seekers who claim fear at area ports from a variety of nations including Mexico,” the statement said.

Drug cartels are ‘supplanting’ the government, lawyer says

El Paso immigration attorney Carlos Spector visited with some of the Mexican asylum seekers on Friday and noticed a trend: Most are coming from small towns.

“The cartel battles are no longer just for control of drug routes or access to guns and money. They’re now obsessed with absolute control of towns so they can be in charge of the politics, the taxes, the extorsion and who comes and goes,” Spector said. “In some places of Mexico it’s no longer possible to make a distinction between organized crime and the State. It has become a situation of ‘authorized’ criminal activity through omission or commission (partnership) of the government.”

He said the Mexicans fleeing their towns out of fear for drug traffickers have various legal options to seek protection in the United States. “When the cartel becomes the state when they become the police, their actions become the actions of the state” and that established persecution, he said.

Spector said that when drug cartels try to force people to sell or transport drugs or verbally harass them or family members constantly, it becomes psychological torture, for which international law provides some protections.

“It’s the same situation that we saw earlier in the Juarez Valley, in the interior of Chihuahua state that is now spreading all over Mexico: It’s the absence of the state and the cartels supplanting the state,” he said.