Hundreds Of Migrants Released In The Rio Grande Valley The mayor of Brownsville, Texas, was told to expect close to 6,000 migrants released in the Rio Grande Valley this week. A local shelter has been taking in hundreds each day.
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Shelters And City Governments Scramble To Help Migrants In The Rio Grande Valley

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Shelters And City Governments Scramble To Help Migrants In The Rio Grande Valley

Shelters And City Governments Scramble To Help Migrants In The Rio Grande Valley

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

And now back to the border. According to the most recent U.S. Customs and Border Protection statistics, more than 76,000 people were apprehended on the southern border in February. Administration officials have projected that number will surpass 100,000 for March. The highest number of crossings are taking place in Texas' Rio Grande Valley. One shelter in Brownsville that normally helps a couple dozen migrants a day recently saw their numbers spike up to 400 or more daily. Texas Public Radio's Reynaldo Leanos Jr. reports.

REYNALDO LEANOS JR, BYLINE: Marisela Almeida is the volunteer coordinator at Good Neighbor Settlement House in Brownsville, a shelter that helps the homeless, which is now also being used to house migrants released from CBP custody.

LEANOS: This is airport right here.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: How many do we have?

MARISELA ALMEIDA: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

LEANOS: The migrants are brought here for a short period of time and can shower, eat and get some clean clothes.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Do you have another (unintelligible) going?

LEANOS: Almeida is lining up people and putting them on a bus headed to the Brownsville airport so they can go to their next destination and await their day in immigration court. All along the Texas border, cities are dealing with an unprecedented influx of migrants. Jack White is the director of Good Neighbor. They started their Refugee Respite Program back in August at the request of Catholic Charities RGV. Back then, their numbers were small. But White says he's recently seen hundreds of people every day and didn't receive an advance notice of releases. But he says they're dealing with it.

JACK WHITE: Will it be hard? Yes. But we don't intend to back off of the mission we've embraced, so they can keep sending them. We're going to serve them.

LEANOS: Migrants usually arrive at the shelter with some documentation showing if they have relatives or sponsors to contact to arrange shelter while they wait their immigration court proceedings. The wait can take months, even years because of the huge backlog of cases. Marianela Ramirez-Watson is the director for the Refugee Respite Program at Good Neighbor. She says last weekend, they ran into a new problem.

MARIANELA RAMIREZ-WATSON: A group of people showed up without their paperwork. And so the minute we caught it, we called CBP. And they said, oh, my gosh, we weren't supposed to send that bus yet. Some - you know, a little confusion when you're dealing with as many people as they are.

LEANOS: While local organizations like Good Neighbor handle the releases, the Trump administration continues to call on Congress to change immigration laws to stave off what they consider a national emergency at the border. But Cesar Cuauhtemoc Garcia Hernandez says the real crisis isn't with the people asking for asylum. Rather, it's with the immigration law system. Garcia Hernandez is an associate professor of law at the University of Denver and a Valley native. Garcia Hernandez says it's important to point out that this administration has already made changes in an effort to limit the number of asylum-seekers.

CESAR CUAUHTEMOC GARCIA HERNANDEZ: A person can make a claim - a successful claim for asylum based on abuse by a violent spouse or because of violence being inflicted by the gangs that are destabilizing much of Central America. The Trump administration has made it almost impossible to make those claims.

LEANOS: Still, asylum-seekers keep coming. As Good Neighbor braces for more, Brownsville's mayor, Tony Martinez, says his city has adapted to the challenge pretty well. He said CBP said to expect close to 6,000 migrants across the Rio Grande Valley.

TONY MARTINEZ: I've been in situations where, you know, there is no way to control something, whether it's a health problem or otherwise. And you really feel helpless and overwhelmed. And you're at your wits' end. Here, because of the community coming together, we kind of lift each other's spirits and lift each other's hearts to meet the occasion.

LEANOS: Meanwhile, CBP announced Thursday that construction of 13 miles of new border wall in the Rio Grande Valley will begin this month. For NPR News, I'm Reynaldo Leanos Jr. in Brownsville.

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