Priest on crowds of migrants in El Paso, Texas: It’s a ‘humanitarian crisis’

By Jorge Fuentelsaz

El Paso, Texas, May 9 (EFE).- A Jesuit priest at this US border city’s Sacred Heart Church, around which roughly 1,000 migrants have set up an encampment, told Efe the situation amounts to a “humanitarian crisis.”

“There are more than a thousand people outside the parish church, and all of the shelters are packed full. The situation amounts to not just an immigration crisis but a humanitarian crisis,” Fr. Daniel Mora said after a morning Mass on Monday in El Paso.

Thousands of people have crossed the border ahead of Thursday’s expiration of the United States’ pandemic-era border policy known as Title 42, under which migrants encountered at the southern border could be immediately expelled for public-health reasons and denied any opportunity to seek asylum.

And many other migrants are expected to make their way across the US-Mexico border in the coming days.

“Migrants are on the streets, sleeping out in the elements, often with just one meal a day and with all the health problems that affect them,” Mora said.

“The big humanitarian crisis is that the migration (flow) stalled here in El Paso, because of the fear people have of continuing on. And so it’s caused this huge crisis,” he added, explaining that even people who already have immigration papers “fear that they’ll be deported” back to Mexico.

Authorities have set up public toilets and are providing blankets and plastic tarpaulins to protect migrants from the cold at night and the sun during the day.

While the situation remains normal in the rest of El Paso, the sidewalks and alleys surrounding Sacred Heart Church are jam-packed with migrants from Venezuela, Cuba, Mexico, Honduras and other countries.

They have gathered there due to a sense of security and because US Border Patrol agents have not yet tried to detain them. According to local government officials, around 60 percent of those gathered near the church are undocumented and have not even begun the process of seeking asylum.

“They come here because it’s a parish church, and parish churches, hospitals and schools are considered sanctuaries. They stay here out of fear that the Border Patrol will return them to Mexico,” Mora, a Colombian priest who has been based in El Paso for the last year and a half, told Efe.

That church, founded and staffed by Jesuits and the oldest in El Paso, also is home to a small shelter that is open 24 hours and day and provides refuge for 140 people, mostly women and children.

Other migrants camped outside the church are given Red Cross-provided blankets, as well as water and food “when we can, but not always,” the priest said.

At the conclusion of the Mass, Mora offered advice and blessings to migrants who approached him.

“The first thing we tell them is to not let themselves be deceived by people wanting … to sell them fake permits or telling them that we as a parish can give them some kind of permit,” Mora said, adding that he has heard of forged documents being sold for $80 or more.

Mora stressed the importance of “providing proper guidance, so they’re aware of their situation, and telling them the truth: that it’s hard to keep going (to other parts of the country) but that there are some apps they can access from their cellphones to request asylum.”

Compared to other mass border crossings of the past, he said never before had such a large number of people been left stranded in El Paso.

“The saddest thing about all this is that El Paso has always been a place where people have come trying to cross into the United States from Latin America or many other parts of the world, but they’d never stopped in one place,” the priest said.

Amid expectations of a further surge of migrants in the coming days, Mora said meetings have been held within the diocese and that other churches are now ready “to open their doors to the influx.”

“Not only undocumented (migrants), but also those that have begun their asylum processes. And the city also is getting ready.” EFE

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