DEL RIO, Texas (Border Report) — The cozy quarters at the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition migrant center in this tiny border town last week was filled with over 100 migrants who were released each day by U.S. Border Patrol agents.
In the span of four days, they helped over 1,000 asylum seekers book flights and bus tickets out of this Southwest Texas city. They gave them backpacks filled with toiletries, lunches and toys for the children.
It was the most migrants they have received in a week since this center opened in 2019, and it reflects the swelling numbers of asylum seekers who are crossing into this remote and dangerous part of Southwest Texas from Mexico.
But, suddenly, this week the numbers have dropped. This came after Border Patrol agents on Friday afternoon informed this NGO that agents would no longer be sending large groups of families to the center. They would instead be sending the migrants to facilities run by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Tiffany Burrow, the center’s director of operations.
“All families are being directed to ICE. It’s a new policy. I don’t know how long it will last,” Burrow said Thursday morning at the center as she hustled to help the migrants who were released to her care.
An official with U.S. Customs and Border Protection would not say if this was a new policy but told Border Report the agency has flexibility in where it sends migrants who are apprehended illegally crossing into the United States.
“Detention, prosecution, and removal remain tools utilized to address illegal border crossings between ports of entry. CBP works closely with ICE to identify available bed space for migrants encountered by Border Patrol. At times when Border Patrol encounters exceed ICE’s ability to accept transfers, Border Patrol may release non-criminal, processed migrants directly from our facilities in coordination with local officials and nongovernmental organizations with a notice to appear at immigration proceedings or a notice to report to ICE for further processing,” Dennis Smith, a CBP public affairs specialist said in an email.
On Sunday, only four migrants were dropped off, Burrow said. On Monday, there were 42; Tuesday had 46 and 38 came on Wednesday.
On Thursday, 17 asylum-seeking migrants — most from Haiti and Venezuela — were dropped off by Border Patrol officials in two different vehicles before 9 a.m.; 14 more were brought in around noon.
Unused cases of bottled water line the walls. Empty metal chairs remained in the welcome hall, an area that at times was standing room only last week, Burrow said at the facility located on Las Vacas Street just blocks from the Texas/Mexico border.
“This has been a rollercoaster and although the numbers were high last week they’re low now. I don’t know what to expect,” Burrows said.
It’s that lack of uncertainty that makes her job all the harder. She said when there were hundreds of people coming each day, she needed more volunteers and supplies, like toothbrushes and notepads and pens for the migrants to write down information. They needed clothing and soap for the showers.
And, most importantly, she said, they needed sufficient transportation to get the migrants from this facility to the airport for the twice-daily flights out of Del Rio, or to the Greyhound bus station — which is located at a corner gas station — to catch the only bus that leaves out of town each day.
“That all takes preparations and plans and it can’t just happen on a dime,” she said as she hustled to pass out paperwork, and answer questions to the Thursday morning group.
Many don’t fully understand the Notice to Appear documents that the migrants are given from the Department of Homeland Security, which allows them to legally be in the United States under the condition that they must appear at an ICE office within two months.
The nonprofit interfaith-based coalition does not give them money for transportation to their destination cities, but it does provide rides to the airport or bus stop. If the migrants fail to catch a flight or bus, they must come up with money for an overnight hotel.
Several people have missed their flights and buses lately, she said.
The people getting help
Darline Demis, 30, and Ismick Desir, 24, are friends from Haiti. They stood outside the center and said they were elated and relieved to be there and grateful for the assistance.
Demis, who is due to give birth in three months, spoke a bit of Spanish, but no English. Desir spoke fluent Spanish and ticked off the number of countries that he said the friends traveled through for the past two months to get from their island nation to South Texas.
His pregnant wife was inside, and he said their journey was long and hard.
“We took buses and went through Santa Domingo, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala to Mexico and then here,” Desir said. “We are very, very, very happy to be here.”
They were traveling to Miami where they both have family, including Demis’ brother.
The group came on the same day that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also is coming to this remote border town to host a Border Security Summit. He has invited county judges and law enforcement personnel from 34 border counties and regions north of the Texas/Mexico border and is expected to discuss future state plans for protecting the border.
The summit comes days after Abbott told FOX News that he wants “to arrest everybody” who crosses the border illegally. That has drawn the ire of several South Texas border community leaders and peace officers who have told Border Report that they lack jurisdiction to question and arrest migrants on immigration charges.
Burrow said regardless of how many people are released daily, her organization plans to keep its doors open.
“As long as there’s a need, we definitely see a purpose in assisting those who arrive and aren’t quite sure what the next step is. This is their jumping-off point,” she said.