EL PASO — The empty warehouse was about the size of a Costco, 125,000 square feet. Ruben Garcia didn’t love the location, but time was short and he needed to sign a lease.
“We need all the chain-link fences removed,” Garcia told his legal adviser, Jerome Wesevich, last week as they toured cavernous halls and loading bays where hundreds of Central American families would sleep on Red Cross cots. Garcia, 70, the founder and executive director of Annunciation House , an El Paso nonprofit organization that has sheltered migrants for more than 40 years, did not want anything resembling a detention cell.
“We need to try to make this a hospitable place,” he said.
But the biggest challenge would be keeping pace.
Garcia’s shelters are full of migrants who the U.S. government has released from custody into this border city. And Border Patrol holding cells are overflowing, leading last week to some detained families sleeping on the ground beneath an El Paso bridge surrounded by chain-link fencing and razor wire. In coming days, U.S. Customs and Border Protection plans to release thousands more Central Americans it has no room for — and Garcia will try to help as many of them as he can.
Garcia has seen the largest migration wave in more than a decade building for months, the daily total of parents and children that the U.S. government sends his way rising from a few dozen a year ago to several hundred. On Wednesday, he took in 825 migrants, his busiest day ever.