El Paso's Annunciation House shelter receives more than 1,200 Haitians and other migrants
El Paso's Annunciation House migrant shelter has received more than 1,200 mostly Haitian families who were camped in Del Rio, Texas, as the Border Patrol released those not expelled to Haiti.
At one point last week, more than 14,000 people were camped in squalid conditions beneath the international bridge connecting Del Rio to Ciudad Acuña in Mexico — a humanitarian crisis that drew widespread condemnation and prompted the Department of Homeland Security to empty out the site within a week.
"We were notified last week that we could expect to see transfers of individuals from under the bridge to El Paso where they would be processed and many of them would be released," said Ruben Garcia, Annunciation House director in a news conference Monday.
"We were approached: Would we be in a position to receive them and provide hospitality?" Garcia said. "This is what Annunciation House does, and we said yes."
A network of shelters, volunteers
Since Thursday, Annunciation House has received 1,203 migrants, two-thirds of them Haitian. Among them were 144 people from Chile and dozens of others from Venezuela, Cuba and Brazil. A handful of people had come from a mix of countries including Ecuador, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Turkey, Chad, Angola and one person from France.
Many of those sheltered at one of the four Annunciation House shelters on Monday appeared to be traveling with their families.
Small children played between green American Red Cross cots in the expanse of a warehouse-turned shelter, its walls painted colorfully with the letters of the English alphabet and murals.
A poster on the wall explained in Spanish, Haitian Creole and Portuguese that COVID-19 vaccines are available, safe and effective.
Among the 1,203 migrants who have arrived since Thursday, between 50 and 60 people tested positive for COVID-19, Garcia said. Those who test positive are transferred with their families to quarantine for 10 days in hotel rooms secured by El Paso's Office of Emergency Management, he said.
Maps of North and South America hung on one wall. A small hand-drawn map depicted El Paso's place in Texas. Another poster said in Spanish, "Nothing is impossible."
'Looking for a better future'
A 31-year-old Haitian man named Jimmy described the two-month journey from Chile that brought him to the camp at Del Rio with his wife and young child, and to the Casa del Refugiado shelter in El Paso.
"When we arrived at the camp, it was incredible," said the man, who asked that his full name not be used to protect his identity as he and his family apply for immigration relief in the U.S. "There were so many people. There was no place to sleep. We had to sleep on top of cardboard. Dust. There was nothing to eat. It was so difficult."
They spent five days in precarious conditions beneath the Del Rio bridge before border agents took them in for processing.
"There was no cell signal beneath the bridge," Jimmy said, explaining the little information migrants could parse. "We knew they were deporting people to Haiti, not just single people but also families. You know what is happening in Haiti, and we are looking for a better future for our children."
They were boarded on a plane — to where, they weren't told.
It wasn't immediately clear why some Haitians and migrants of other nationalities received an opportunity to make a claim to stay in the United States, while others are being returned to their countries of origin under the public health law known as Title 42.
Border Patrol's El Paso Sector referred the Times' questions to the Department of Homeland Security, which didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
A network of shelters
Garcia said Annunciation House has activated its network of church-run shelters, including two additional shelter locations in El Paso and three in southern New Mexico. The network was expecting to receive 325 more migrants Monday.
He said the shelters' top need is for community volunteers.
Jimmy left Haiti five years ago for Chile, he said. He worked in a factory and as a roofer but struggled to earn enough to feed his family.
Now, sheltered at the Casa del Refugiado in El Paso, he said, "I have never felt so good. We are in the United States, the greatest country in the world.
"It is so hard to leave your family, he said. "So hard. It has been five years since I saw my mother. But to find work and food for my family to eat, it is worth it."
Lauren Villagran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.