Dear friends and supporters of Annunciation House, you may have read about a recent sharp increase in the number of undocumented Central American migrants being apprehended along the southern Texas-Mexico border. The numbers have so overwhelmed Border Patrol (BP) and Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) that they have begun to transport immigrants by plane and bus to other cities in the southwest for processing. Because of the lack of detention facilities for families, many of these Central Americans are being released on their own recognizance. At the beginning of June, when BP prepared to send its first planeloads of migrants to El Paso, they reached out to Annunciation House for assistance in providing hospitality to these Central American families after they were released.
Initially, we were asked to arrange hospitality for 270 immigrants who would arrive in El Paso in two planes on Saturday, June 7. We made as much room as we could in our own houses, Annunciation House and Casa Vides, and also reached out to several other local religious organizations for help. From Sunday, June 8, until Tuesday, June 10, all 270 people were gradually released from detention and came to us. About half of them were from Honduras; most of the rest were from El Salvador and Guatemala, along with a few from South America. The families arrived completely destitute, with literally no possessions but the clothes on their backs. They had not showered nor had a clean change of clothes in days—for some of them, it had been two weeks. They were exhausted and emotionally drained. With lots of support from the community, we provided them with meals, showers, fresh changes of clothes, and a safe place to sleep.
Perhaps most importantly, we helped them move on. Every single family had relatives or friends somewhere in the U.S.; in most cases, these circles of family and friends were even able to supply the needed funds to pay for bus fare (or occasionally plane tickets). Volunteers worked with each family to communicate with their relatives and friends, to make travel arrangements, and to journey on to their destinations. By Thursday, June 12, two days after the last families were released, nearly all of them had left El Paso and were reunited with loved ones in different parts of the U.S.
The very next day, June 13, we received word that two more planes would be arriving on June 14 with another 270 people. Based on the experience of the previous week, we quickly searched for additional facilities that would be better suited to the needs of the families we would soon be welcoming (we needed more showers, for example). A local church stepped forward and offered the use of their community center. This was an ideal facility, with a gym, showers, a kitchen, and other useful features. The generosity of the community center staff was incredible and inspiring. They suspended all programs and activities for about a week so that all 270 people on the planes that arrived on Saturday, June 14 could be received and assisted. By Friday, June 20, all 270 of these new arrivals had left El Paso to rejoin friends or family elsewhere.
Now we had a few days’ respite; ICE had notified us that the next plane was expected on Tuesday, June 24. We used this break to search yet again for facilities, since the community center would not be able to suspend all its programs indefinitely. A local community of religious sisters stepped forward to offer an unoccupied wing of their nursing home. Like the community center, it had showers, a kitchen, and all the other resources we needed. It was a good thing we had located a new housing facility so soon, because on Monday, June 23, ICE called to say that a planeload of immigrants was being diverted from California and would arrive that very day, followed by the previously scheduled plane on Tuesday. Soon we were in full swing at the new facility, with newly released families and over 100 volunteers helping out in various capacities throughout the day.
Then the scope of what was happening really hit us. We were notified that another plane would land on Wednesday, followed by another on Thursday, another on Friday, another on Saturday, and another on Sunday. To the best of our knowledge, many of these people (up to 450 of them) are still being held in detention as of this writing. We expect that many or all of them will be brought to us upon release, and we are trying to prepare for yet another whirlwind week of hospitality.