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Houston’s New Short-Term Shelter Offers Respite To Migrant Families

At the new family transfer center in north Houston, Haitian migrant Jouseline Metayer sits with her 7-month-old son, Jayden.
Elizabeth Trovall
Houston Public Media
At the new family transfer center in north Houston, Haitian migrant Jouseline Metayer sits with her 7-month-old son, Jayden.

A new short-term shelter in north Houston will provide migrants with a chance to sleep, eat a hot meal, and change clothes after their recent crossing into Texas from Mexico before reconnecting with family members elsewhere in the United States.

The facility — or “family transfer center” — has welcomed more than 220 people since opening last week and can accommodate as many as 500 migrants at a time.

It was created to support nonprofits that have been caring for the bulk of these families before they board buses to reunite with family members in other parts of the country.

“We have become an overflow for the NGOs or the respite centers along the border,” said Elder Carlos Villareal, with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “When they receive a large surge and are unable to assist all of them, they will send them here.”

Church leaders approached the White House to create the shelter, which is not a government facility, Villareal said. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Catholic Charities, YMCA International and other nonprofits opened the center, and the National Association of Christian Churches is operating the center, which will stay open for at least six months.

The Houston facility opened as the federal government continues to allow an increasing number of migrants who arrive at the border to be processed and released into the United States.

Since taking office, President Biden’s administration has gradually lifted Trump-era restrictions on certain migrants seeking asylum and other forms of humanitarian relief, especially families and kids traveling alone. For example, under Biden, an increasing number of families have been allowed into to the U.S., despite the continuance of Title 42 expulsions, which still denies many people entry under federal health code.

And last week, Biden officially ended the Remain in Mexico program, which forced asylum seekers to wait out their case in Mexico.

Thousands of migrants, including some who likely have valid asylum claims, are still being detained and removed from the United States.

Most of migrants in the shelter, from countries including Venezuela and Haiti, have already left since arriving last week — many within 24 hours — to reunite with family in the United States.

A few families who didn't have a place to go are still inside, including Vallerie Stephanie Lamour, originally from Haiti, who said while accommodations are nice, she's worried about what's next.

Her plan to travel to her boyfriend’s house in New Jersey was derailed after her boyfriend was detained at the border. She said border officials separated him from the family since they are not married.

“The truth is I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Lamour said in Spanish, tears streaming down her face.

She said she wishes he was at the shelter with her and her 7-year-old twin sons.

Although heartbroken about being separated from her partner, she said she’s grateful for the treatment she’s received since arriving last week.

“When I arrived, I didn’t have clothes. They gave clothes for the kids, for me,” Lamour said. “They treat us well.”