Large groups of migrants – the vast majority Venezuelan men – were released into the streets of El Paso the last two days by border enforcement agents as shelters that typically receive them are at capacity.
And more street releases may be necessary as there has been a significant increase in migrant encounters the past few days – more than 1,000 a day on average – border law officials said.
“As we process migrants in our custody, we will do so with the goal of treating everyone in our custody in a respectful, safe and humane manner,” officials with the El Paso sector of the U.S. Border Patrol said in a statement to El Paso Matters. “Migrants will be provisionally released near community shelters, homeless shelters, and bus stations throughout the city of El Paso.”
On Wednesday, 133 Venezuelan migrants were released, Border Patrol officials confirmed without indicating where they were dropped off.
Three additional groups of more than 20 were released on Thursday afternoon, some at the Greyhound Bus Station in Downtown, the Venezuelans stranded there told El Paso Matters. Border Patrol officials have not confirmed the number of migrants released to the streets on Thursday.
The Border Patrol works with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to find space at nonprofit shelters when its El Paso Processing Center is at capacity.
“Once those options are exhausted, provisional releases into the community are considered,” the agency said in its statement. Border agents last released migrants to the streets in May, when more than 100 people were dropped off at the Tornado bus station in Downtown.
John Martin, director of El Paso’s Opportunity Center for the Homeless, said he was surprised by a group of about 60 migrants arriving at the Welcome Center in South El Paso late Wednesday. The center can house just over 80 people, and more than 100 crowded in and around it Wednesday, he said.
“We don’t have a clear idea of where they were dropped off or how they got here,” Martin said as he sifted through piles of paperwork to figure out where the migrants were headed. “In contrast to what we have seen, these groups have multiple destinations and that complicates what we can do for them.”
Among their destinations were Colorado, Utah, Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, California, Washington, D.C., and New York City.
That was also the case with the migrants at the Greyhound station, who named various destinations as they shared cell phones trying to book their bus trips.
“The problem right now is that we’re being told everything is booked so we need a place to stay at the least for the night,” said one of the Venezuelans, asking an El Paso Matters reporter, “Can you help us? We just need to know where to go.”
A few of the men were trying to call their spouses or other relatives who had been released days earlier. One shouted to another, “I found your wife. She’s at the airport.”
A group of about 20 migrant women were also dropped off at the Reynolds Home in the Lower Valley on Wednesday, director Dorothy Truax said, adding that she wasn’t notified about the dropoff beforehand.
“We see individuals as homeless regardless of how they got to us,” said Truax, who also serves as social services director at the Opportunity Center. “But it does make it challenging to provide help to large groups if we don’t have an opportunity to prepare for them.”
The released migrants have been processed and allowed into the United States to await their immigration hearings. Most have families waiting for them in different cities across the country, but many Venezuelans do not have families or sponsors in the U.S.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection collects information on the migrants and runs background checks before they’re released from custody, the statement reads. Those found to pose a public safety risk remain detained.
Ruben Garcia, founder and CEO of the Annunciation House, said the migrant shelter and a network of other hospitality sites, as he calls them, have been at capacity.
“All the hospitality sites are receiving everyone they can receive,” he said in a phone interview Thursday. “But it’s not just how many you can receive, but how many of those will be able to move on (to other cities) quickly to make room for others who come after them.”
Like Martin, Garcia said he was not notified by either the border agencies or the city’s Office of Emergency Management about the possible street releases.
The street releases come a week after the city of El Paso and the Office of Emergency Management addressed the growing number of migrant arrivals in El Paso. That included busing migrants out of El Paso.
The city officials stressed that they had been planning for months to handle the release of growing numbers of migrants in El Paso.
City officials didn’t return requests for comment on Thursday.