EL PASO, Texas – Pandemic-era policy Title 42 remains in limbo, but migrant shelters say now is the time to prepare for its end. Some migrant shelters are pleading for more government help as the number of border crossings drastically rises.
In El Paso, Texas, the Annunciation House has been helping migrants find shelter for four decades under the leadership of Executive Director Ruben Garcia. With the future of Title 42 uncertain, Garcia believes now is the time to start preparing.
"We are seeing anywhere between  and 500 refugees being released to the network of hospitality houses that Annunciation House oversees," Garcia said.
The City of El Paso has relocated city workers from COVID-19 tracing to help at Casa Del Refuiado, one of Annunciation House’s shelters. Garcia said the city helps bus migrants to the airport and provides hotels for those who test positive for COVID-19.
Despite this help, shelters are in desperate need of more volunteers.
"A greater priority is that of volunteers," Garcia said.
Gabriela Riemer is serving as a summer intern at the migrant shelter, sleeping there and working long hours.
"We don't take their documents. We have phones that they can communicate with their families that are, you know, outside," Riemer said. "So, I just feel really grateful to see how safe they feel and experience that sense of relief that they get here after that long and dangerous journey of uncertainty."
She previously did a two-week internship at the shelter. She said things have changed.
"We’re receiving over 100 now per day, and in October we would see about 70, 60," Riemer said.
Over 31,000 migrants crossed the U.S.-Mexico border through El Paso in April, up 34% from the same time last year. More than 48% of those people have been expelled through Title 42, a policy that could be lifted within the next year.
The Annunciation House disperses migrants among its 18 hospitality sites, all churches or other non-governmental locations.
Fox spoke with a migrant who wanted to remain anonymous who is waiting for his brother to buy him a plane ticket to Wisconsin. He hadn’t even heard of Title 42 or the Migrant Protection Protocol policy.
"I am Nicaraguan, and I left Nicaragua on Feb. 5 with the intention of giving my family a better life, my two girls that I have in Nicaragua," he said.
There’s not a timeline for when Title 42 will end, but Garcia says people need to start preparing for it.
"There’s great concern about what's going to happen when Title 42 gets lifted, and whether or not we're going to be ready for it," Garcia said. "There is no way that the NGO (non-governmental organization) structure is going to be able to handle that surge."
Garcia has one message for mayors and county judges in border cities:
"I would like for you to be in a position to say when Title 42 gets lifted we have identified three buildings, each one that has the capacity for 250 cots," Garcia said.
Garcia would like to see additional churches agree to shelter migrants and for the city or county to open up shelter space as well. He suggests the federal government could transport additional migrants to other cities with more shelter space.
Fox asked officials from the City of El Paso if they were searching for alternative buildings that could work as shelters.
"Not at this time, but that's something certainly that we can look at discussing in the future," Laura Cruz-Acosta, communications director for the city, said. "At this point in time, our focus is to support the NGO, the Annunciation House and making sure that they have the necessary information and products, all of the items that they need — whether it be transportation, public safety, volunteers. That has been our focus."
These migrants typically only need shelter for 24 to 72 hours as they wait for a bus, train or airplane to take them to where their sponsor lives in the U.S.
David Stout is the El Paso county commissioner for precinct 2. He says the county has not had any street releases in the past week, but it is preparing.
Stout sent Fox this statement:
"County staff recently visited Brownsville to look at their model and explore what El Paso can do on our border to support hospitality sites, travel arrangement processes and assist NGOs with overflow. We now have multiple options, one being to contract with a third party to make sure we process people quickly to get them on their destination."
Stout said the county is "thankful for the work of organizations and NGOs like Annunciation House for their dedication to providing hospitality sites so that people are not left on the streets."
Stout's statement continues:
"To the degree we have urgency or even a ‘crisis,’ it’s a humanitarian crisis, not a security threat, which unfortunately is how migrants primarily are treated. Since the federal emphasis is on enforcement and the welcome and processing side is under-resourced, it becomes a local issue when people are released into the community.
"The county will do what it can to fill in those gaps, but it’s ultimately up to the federal government to balance our immigration system to be more welcoming and humanitarian."