EL PASO, TEXAS – A pandemic-era border policy is set to end next week, and it has border towns worried about an influx of undocumented immigrants.
In El Paso, more than 2,600 people are pouring in daily, and that number could increase to an average of 4,500 a day if Title 42 ends, County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said in a virtual news conference Tuesday.
The rule, enacted under the Trump administration, allows the feds turn away migrants at the border in the interest of public health. If Title 42 comes to an end, local officials and nonprofits say their resources will be more strained than they already are.
The Rescue Mission of El Paso is scrambling to find room for dozens of migrants who show up each night on short notice.
"We've never seen anything like this, and I've been the CEO for 25 years," Blake Barrow said. "Since the middle of September, we got this massive flood of migrants coming in."
From October 2021 to September 2022, Customs and Border Protection encountered 14,000 migrants in the El Paso sector. Since October of this year, they’ve already encountered over 53,000.
Many migrants turn themselves in to Border Patrol custody once they reach U.S. soil. Border Patrol processes and assigns them an alien ID number. Agents will transport some of them by bus and release them onto the streets of El Paso, including right outside organizations like the Rescue Mission, often unexpected and unannounced.
"In years past, we would get maybe here's a group of ten Cubans or something like that," Barrow said. "Now all of a sudden, the Border Patrol is releasing as many as 500, 600 a day just to the streets of El Paso."
The nonprofit is using every inch of space inside their facility, and they’re working to open another shelter.
"This is our chapel. Ordinarily, it's set up with chairs. We were having chapel services in here," Barrow said. "We'll put down a cot, a mattress, you know, maybe even some blankets, provide any kind of cushion and take care of folks as best we can, but it's a little overwhelming."
Gerardo Gutierrez from Nicaragua has been at the Rescue Mission of El Paso for over a week, after a three-month journey to get here. He came to the U.S. to look for work.
"There’s no work in my country," he said in Spanish. "The family suffers, my kids and my wife."
His wife and kids, 4 and 5 years old, stayed behind.
Gutierrez is one of dozens staying at the Rescue Mission. The CEO of the nonprofit ordered 100 mattresses in September. He just placed an order for 200 more. They need more than that but don’t have the money for it and are waiting for federal funding.
"You could say we're kind of a temporary holding spot. I've had a whole lot of folks that come in and they say, ‘I've been on this journey for three months, and you're the first place that treated us like a human being,’" Barrow said. "We're here to share God's love with people in need… Yes, we are being inundated. But quite honestly, I love taking care of these folks. They are welcome here."
Not all migrants released from Border Patrol custody end up at shelters. Many linger in the downtown area outside of businesses or a bus station.
On Tuesday, one resident dropped off water to those in the area.
"We were looking at the images yesterday that everyone was outside, and it's really cold. I’m very cold. But we have a roof on top of our head, and I felt really bad for everyone looking at the little kids being cold," Leslie Navarrete said. "I woke up this morning, I was like, I have to go get some water or something, or I know they're going to be thirsty."
She said the number of people crossing is "insane" because she’s never seen so many at once. She’s lived in El Paso her whole life.
"I was driving past the border highway and I saw a lady crossing the street with her little baby," Navarrete said.
On Wednesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called for an investigation into non-governmental organizations potentially aiding illegal crossings.
In a letter to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, he claims there have been recent reports that NGOs may have helped people illegally cross the border and provided them transportation.
Meanwhile, Title 42 is set to end Dec. 21.