The warehouse on a busy but nondescript strip of auto repair shops and convenience stores draws little attention from passersby.
Inside, hundreds of migrants are eating, charging phones and using temporary toilets and showers. Within hours, a security guard escorts them to a dirt track outside the door, where commercial buses take them from the remote Texas town of Eagle Pass to San Antonio International Airport for $40.
The Border Patrol releases up to 1,000 migrants daily at Mission: Border Hope. The nonprofit outgrew a church and moved into the warehouse in April amid the Biden administration’s burgeoning practice of paroleing migrants, particularly those not subject to a pandemic rule that prevents migrants from seeking asylum. to request.
The United States Border Patrol has released more than 207,000 migrants who crossed from Mexico from August through May, including 51,132 in May, a 28 percent increase from April, according to court records. In the past seven months, it has released only 11 migrants on par.
Parole protects migrants from deportation for a certain period of time, but offers little else. Under the law, the Homeland Security Department may parole migrants in the United States “only on a case-by-case basis for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit.” Paroles can apply for asylum within a year.
The border patrol turned to parole for being short of space, according to court records. It’s a restrained but profound change from the early months of President Joe Biden in office and his immediate predecessors, Donald Trump and Barack Obama.
When officers couldn’t process migrants fast enough for lawsuits last year, thousands languished in custody under a bridge in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley. In 2019, the cells were so packed that some migrants resorted to standing on toilets.
Migrants released from the warehouse will be told to report to immigration authorities at their final destination in the US within two months. A handheld device tracks their movements.
“The treatment [by US authorities] was good compared to other countries,” said Anthony Montilla, 27, from Venezuela. “They didn’t treat us like we were thieves.”
He arrived with his family after traveling through Panama’s infamous Darien Gap, where bandits raped young girls in front of their parents and corpses on the jungle floor. After Border Patrol released the family for two months, they went to a friend’s house in Washington, DC.
Jose Castillo, 43, arrived from Nicaragua with his wife and 14-year-old son after overcoming fears of drowning in the Rio Grande. They were on their way to Miami to live with a cousin. They say the opposition to Nicaragua’s government made them a target of repression.
The day Castillo spent in border police custody was “easy,” he said, but he would advise others against the trip because of the danger of starving or being kidnapped in Mexico.
Mission: Border Hope, supported by the United Methodist Church, operates in an area that now rivals the Rio Grande Valley as the busiest corridor for illegal crossings. The services are modest compared to groups in other border towns that provide lodging and transportation to an airport.
It started in 2000 serving 25 to 50 migrants a week at an earlier location, said Valeria Wheeler, the executive director, who oversees the operations with efficiency on the assembly line.
On the busiest days, volunteers can’t keep up with the pace because they register migrants, buy bus tickets and arrange other logistics, Wheeler said. A typical day is 500 migrants, but arrivals sometimes reach 1,000.
Boxes of spaghetti sauce, chicken soup, and pork and beans are stacked near a makeshift kitchen. Migrants wait in clusters of metal benches and plastic chairs. A voice from a loudspeaker gives instructions to people dropped off on Border Patrol buses and announces when commercial buses to the airport will arrive for ticketed passengers.
The facility encourages migrants to leave quickly to make way for others, but about one in ten end up sleeping on the concrete floor with nowhere to go.
“We were not made to be a shelter,” said Wheeler, a former paralegal, as she walked through the windowless building, often interrupted by migrants asking questions.
Conditional migrants say they were not screened for asylum or even asked why they came to the US. They will receive a stapled package with a blue stamp that says when the parole expires.
That stands in stark contrast to many others who are deported without a chance to seek asylum under the authority of Title 42, which denies migrants a chance of asylum on the grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19. A federal judge recently ordered it to remain in effect over the administration’s objections.
Title 42 has been applied unevenly and affects migrants from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador in particular, as Mexico has agreed to take them back.
The head of the Border Patrol’s parent agency says migrants selected for parole have their criminal histories checked and generally arrive at families with an address where they will reside in the US.
“We are trying to be smart about it and recognize that there are people who have been carefully vetted but are at much lower risk and it would make sense to act differently than others,” Chris Magnus, Commissioner for Customs and Border Protection, said in a statement. interview.
Critics say parole encourages more migrants to come and the government is defying the legal requirement that it be granted “on a case-by-case basis”.
But Magnus said it is “much more efficient” and about as effective as releasing them after border police officers prepare notices to appear in immigration court.
That time-consuming exercise is now in the hands of immigration and customs enforcement officers when migrants report to them at their final destination.
The border patrol is still processing about 25,000 migrants a month before the immigration court, which could take more than an hour each, according to agents. In comparison, parole is processed in minutes.
On a recent day, a Honduran woman, who was about eight months pregnant, was released with a notice to appear before the Cleveland Immigration Court where she planned to live with an uncle. Wheeler said she doesn’t know why some migrants are being treated in immigration court and others are being released on par – and her organization isn’t asking.
“Our goal is to provide security,” she said.