By Alejandra Arredondo
El Paso, Texas, Dec 23 (EFE).- Migrants who managed to reach the United States after a long, perilous journey now find themselves facing a new ordeal in the border city of El Paso, where some shelters are turning away people who lack proof of having been processed by the Border Patrol.
At least three shelters in this city located across the Rio Grande from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, including a facility inaugurated on Thursday with the capacity to house 1,500 people, are rejecting those migrants, based on Efe’s observations at one shelter and reports by witnesses at two others.
As a result, hundreds of mostly Venezuelan migrants have been forced to sleep on the street even as temperatures dropped below freezing on Thursday night and Friday morning.
A coast-to-coast winter storm, meanwhile, is set to further exacerbate the situation this weekend.
Less than 200 meters (655 feet) from an area where a group of migrants were camping in the street, the city of El Paso – with assistance from Red Cross volunteers – on Thursday outfitted its Conventions Center as a shelter.
But its doors are closed to migrants who entered the country irregularly and have not turned themselves in to border officials.
“To sleep here, they have to have documentation. If they entered the country illegally (and have not been processed by federal immigration officials), they can’t enter,” an El Paso city worker at the entrance to the building told Efe.
In remarks to CNN, El Paso spokesperson Laura Cruz-Acosta said the city must follow state and federal policies that require migrants to have documentation in order to receive shelter at government-run facilities.
Migrants covered from head to foot with blankets given to them by El Paso residents on Thursday night sought to protect themselves from below-freezing weather.
Local authorities (police and officials from the emergency management office) approached that group of migrants to inform them about a shelter run by the Catholic Church that was receiving people with or without the necessary paperwork.
“I don’t want them to deport me. I struggled a lot to get here,” Kevin (a fictitious name), who said he was skeptical about the Church-run facility, told Efe.
Around 30 people accepted the officials’ offer, but many others chose to remain out in the elements.
Last Saturday, El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser issued a disaster declaration in the city to attend to the needs of thousands of migrants and ensure sufficient shelter during the winter season.
The city also will receive more than $6 million in aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to attend to the humanitarian crisis.
According to Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights immigration reform organization, denying shelter to people without paperwork is “the most hypocritical and inhuman thing that city authorities could be doing.”
“It’s really reprehensible. When we give humanitarian aid, we don’t ask for papers,” the activist said.
Sandragrace Martinez, a therapist and activist who has spent several days in El Paso providing assistance to migrants, echoed those remarks.
“This isn’t the time to be asking people about their status. We’re talking about a situation where people are in serious and imminent danger” due to the dangerously cold conditions.
Desperate to avoid remaining indefinitely in Mexico, where many migrants risk being extorted by drug cartels, many migrants have managed to avoid detection by Border Patrol officials and cross into El Paso.