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Migrant Influx Puts Pressure On Resources At Southern Border


Immigration officials report an increase in people detained at the U.S.-Mexico border. Many are families. And their numbers give governments and shelters a lot more to do. One area receiving many migrants right now is El Paso, Texas, just across from Juarez, Mexico. Here's Alex Hall of member station KQED.

ALEX HALL, BYLINE: Last year, when the news of caravans traveling to Tijuana was grabbing national headlines, migrants were also traveling to Juarez, across the border from El Paso, in record numbers. That's around the time that Darwin Oporta that left his home in Nicaragua.

DARWIN OPORTA: (Speaking Spanish).

HALL: Oporta stretches out on a blue mat. It's one of dozens laid out on the floor of a sports arena here turned emergency shelter.

OPORTA: (Speaking Spanish).

HALL: He shows me a pink bracelet. He says they handed them out when he arrived. On it, the number 6,074 is written in black Sharpie.

OPORTA: (Speaking Spanish).

HALL: Oporta says he heard on the news that President Trump said the migrant who enters the U.S. legally is welcome. That's why he's here - to do it the legal way.

OPORTA: (Speaking Spanish).

HALL: When his number comes up, Oporta will go to the border and ask for asylum. The bracelet is part of a system that the local government here set up in response to the more than 8,000 migrants that have arrived here since October.

ENRIQUE VALENZUELA: After a while, 25 people became 60 in one day. Then that night, they became 100. Next day, we had 130.

HALL: Enrique Valenzuela is general coordinator of the state of Chihuahua's population agency. He says many of the migrants have told local officials they heard it would be easier to cross in Juarez.

VALENZUELA: That sounds right. It's still a long way, for many of them, here.

HALL: At Caminos de Vida Church in El Paso, Pastor Israel Cabrera points to cots stacked up against the wall and shoes lined up on the carpet in the church's sanctuary.

ISRAEL CABRERA: One of the things that really, really - a lot of the people needed were socks. They have been walking for days and days, and they didn't have socks and men, women and children's underwear.

HALL: A week ago, none of this was here. Last Tuesday, after the city's largest shelter ran out of space, Immigration and Customs Enforcement came here with three buses full of migrants, all of them families. Cabrera says he was given 20 minutes to decide if the church could take 162 people.

CABRERA: We weren't prepared to receive that many people.

HALL: Since late December, ICE says it's released more than 20,000 migrants into El Paso. Most of the migrants at this shelter say they crossed illegally in remote areas of Texas or New Mexico.

MARIA ANSELMA MORALES: (Speaking Spanish).

HALL: Twenty-three-year-old Maria Anselma Morales rode a bus from Guatemala through Mexico with her two daughters, ages 3 and 7 months. When she ran out of money, she started walking with other migrants in the desert. They had no food. She says they almost died of thirst. They were looking for Border Patrol to turn themselves in.

ANSELMA MORALES: (Speaking Spanish).

HALL: This church doesn't have the capacity to take in many more than a few hundred received in recent days. Still, a non-profit coordinating between ICE and local churches tells Pastor Cabrera more families are on the way. For NPR News, I'm Alex Hall in El Paso.

INSKEEP: And that reporting was supported by the International Women's Media Foundation. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alex Hall