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More migrants arrive in Dallas amid shifting border policy

Migrants, who have already been processed at the border, receive food and clothing at Oak Lawn United Methodist Church in Dallas as they make travel plans to arrive at their final U.S. destination.
Pablo Arauz Peña
Migrants, who have already been processed at the border, receive food and clothing at Oak Lawn United Methodist Church in Dallas as they make travel plans to arrive at their final U.S. destination.

Immigration limits set last year because of COVID-19 were supposed to expire Wednesday, but the Supreme Court ordered those limits to stay in place past Christmas. Now, volunteers at a Dallas church are working daily to provide food, clothing and shelter for asylum-seekers ahead of the holidays and an extreme cold front.

Dozens of migrants have arrived in Dallas over the past two days, and local leaders at the border are struggling to help asylum seekers amid a humanitarian crisis.

Stories from people at the Oak Lawn United Methodist Church underscored that crisis, as asylum seekers found a midway point to their eventual destinations.

Yalitza Cabrera said she fled her home country of Ecuador back in March. After a month-and-a-half-long journey that took her through several Central American countries, Cabrera arrived at a United States detention center in May.

Then from the Bluebonnet Detention Center, north of Abilene, she and 21 other migrants were bussed to the Oak Lawn church Wednesday morning.

Cabrera said she’s happy the journey is mostly over. The next stop: staying with family friends in Pennsylvania.

“[I’m] happy because I know that I’m going north, where there are people who are going to welcome me, who are going to help me,” Cabrera said in Spanish. “Because I fled my country due to many difficult situations that I experienced there. Well, I’ll have a new life, and try again to forget all the bad things.”

Cabrera is one of thousands of migrants seeking asylum in the United States after Title 42, a policy which set immigration limits in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, was set to expire Wednesday.

But the Supreme Court has ordered the limits to stay in place until after Christmas. Now, thousands wait at the border while volunteers continue to process migrants in Dallas and other major cities.

Almas Muscatwalla works with detention centers and Dallas officials to coordinate migrant arrivals.

She said the church was expecting more than 50 migrants Wednesday, but because there are less staff at border processing facilities around the holidays, that number was cut in half.

If it weren’t for nonprofits like the Oak Lawn church, Muscatwalla said migrants would be left at overflowing detention centers.

“I feel like it’s not right. It's not fair. They basically are going through a legal process,” Muscatwalla said. “Like, I'm an immigrant here. I went through my immigration and legal process, and they're going through the exact same process. It's just that they're going to be seeking for asylee status.”

Volunteers at the church provided migrants with breakfast and warm clothing after their three-hour journey. As the state prepares for harsh winds and extreme cold, Muscatwalla said the need for donations persists.

Nearly half of the arrivals Wednesday were Nicaraguans, including Lester Garcia. He said he left behind his wife and two young sons to find work in the U.S. and hopefully bring them here.

Garcia said it was a morning of mixed emotions.

“The sadness is because I’m not going to have my children, my wife and my mother with me for a while, I don’t know how long, really,” Garcia said in Spanish. “And joy … what makes me happy is just that I have the opportunity to bring my family to me."

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Toluwani Osibamowo is a general assignments reporter for KERA. She previously worked as a news intern for Texas Tech Public Media and copy editor for Texas Tech University’s student newspaper, The Daily Toreador, before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She is originally from Plano.