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Racing against the Title 42 clock


WORLD Radio - Racing against the Title 42 clock

Border communities in Texas prepare for a massive surge in illegal immigrant crossings

A Border Patrol agent demonstrates how to launch a safety rope to someone struggling against the Rio Grande's strong, and deadly, current. Photo Credit: Bonnie Pritchett

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: It’s Thursday the 11th of May, 2023.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Myrna Brown.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. First up, the end of Title 42.

Towns and cities along the U.S. southern border are bracing for a surge of migrants from Mexico when the COVID-era rule ends at midnight. The policy allowed Border Patrol to return some migrants to Mexico without an asylum hearing.

BROWN: But that ends tonight and as many as 10,000 migrants a day are expected to cross the border. Shelters from California to Texas are already at capacity. The Biden administration sent 1500 active-duty military personnel to El Paso to provide administrative relief to Border Patrol.

REICHARD: WORLD Radio correspondent Bonnie Pritchett spoke with ministry and Border Patrol representatives in three Texas border towns and brings us this report.

LARRY FLOYD: We've always had undocumented coming across. Always. And it's a way of life here. Most of us are not anxious.

BONNIE PRITCHETT, REPORTER: That’s Larry Floyd. He’s executive director of the El Paso Baptist Association and helps run the El Paso Migrant Center, a respite and processing facility. Reports that between 10 to 35 thousand migrants are waiting to cross from Juarez into El Paso give him pause.

FLOYD: But we're wondering, what's life going to look like if all 35, 45 thousand come across?

The city got a preview of those conditions last December when about 7300 migrants crossed in one day filling shelters and forcing the city to convert two unused schools into temporary shelters.

Months later, hundreds of homeless migrants remain in El Paso. In advance of the anticipated surge, Mayor Oscar Leeser declared a state of emergency. And those temporary shelters have reopened.

Floyd says one reason for the homelessness is a lack of documentation. Until the migrants receive their processing papers from Border Patrol they can’t leave town and non-governmental agencies aren’t supposed to house them.

FLOYD: They can't cross the checkpoints when you leave here. So, El Paso will be the place that people stay now You know, as well as Del Rio as well as Brownsville as well as Laredo all of them are going to be the destination for everybody because there is no way they're gonna be able to process that paperwork, even in a few weeks. No way.

Brownsville, Texas is also under a state of emergency.

CARLOS NAVARRO: Zero. No space. We’re to the max.

That’s Carlos Navarro, pastor of West Brownsville Baptist Church. He said shelter space is maxed out and about 400 people are homeless.

NAVARRO: But now there's a new term in the city, which is called a homeless migrant. Those are the ones that can’t leave because the there's not enough buses, or they don't have any, any money to continue. They don't have money for hotels, no shelters, no food, no water. So, the only things we do as an NGOs is just go over there in the surrounding areas with the bus station, where the influx building is and feed the people.

Those migrants cross into Brownsville from Matamoros, Mexico where Abraham Barberi has served as a church-planting missionary since 2009. He lives in Brownsville and pastors a church in Matamoros. He also heads up One Mission Ministries an organization that helps meet some of the migrants’ physical needs.

ABRAHAM BARBERI: I go there every day to bring water and twice a day to to bring food so I'm there all the time.

He’s never seen so many people waiting to cross the border.

BARBERI: I was telling you 2016, 2017, the Cubans had started coming to the border. You would see 20 at the most at the border. If you see 30 or 40, that would be too many. So after 2019 I think the numbers have increased and until this days, they have not decreased. And and yeah, it's crazy. There's a crisis at the border.

Homelessness isn’t the only concern for border communities.

Jason Owens is the Chief Patrol Agent for the Border Patrol Del Rio Sector. He cited the deadly risks migrants take when crossing illegally into the U.S.

JASON OWENS: So last year, we had almost 3000 rescues, and we had 256 deaths that were just Border Patrol. That does not count what the government of Mexico found, or what our county or Stone Garden partners found. This year, so far, we're over 50 deaths. And I believe it's 300 rescues. And that's just the Del Rio Sector. So, the numbers obviously gonna grow across the different sectors on the southwest border.


AGENT: And on the last run the agent’s actually going to grab the rope and jump into the water to simulate so y’all can see how it is to have to pull somebody in from the river.

In late April Border Patrol and local law enforcement invited international media and government representatives to Eagle Pass for a demonstration of their search and rescue techniques.

If current immigration trends stay on course, their skills will be put to the test.

OWENS: Last year, fiscal year 22, for the Del Rio sector specifically, we had over 480,000 encounters. The year before that we had 259,000 encounters. That year was more than the previous nine fiscal years combined. And if our trend holds true, we are on pace for fiscal year 23 to exceed fiscal year 22’s numbers.

As the number of migrants swell and local charitable and government resources dwindle, ministry leaders agree sharing the gospel is their primary task. They are also asked a 2000 year old question: Who is my neighbor?

BARBERI: There's no easy answer to that because it's hard to find a balance.

At the end of April Abraham Barberi could only watch as 15,000 migrants crossed the Rio Grande into Brownsville from Matamoros.

BARBERI: Now, I'm not I'm not for open borders, or illegal immigration. But we're going find a balance as Christians there.

And he can’t ignore the needs right in front of him – like when a mother tried ferrying three terrified little girls across the Rio Grande on an inflatable mattress. He gave the girls lollipops and told them they would be OK. They arrived safely at the US shore and were immediately taken into Border Patrol custody.

BARBERI: It's really difficult to say, “Well, I'm not going to help this this lady and her children, because, you know, they're gonna go illegally into the United States. And that's not fair.” I just think right now, this lady, and her children need help. And that's what I'm going to focus on. So, I don't know if that answers your question.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Bonnie Pritchett in Eagle Pass and Houston, Texas.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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