Migrants arrive in Dallas as high numbers cause overcrowding worries at border & More news


About 70 migrants arrived at a Dallas church Wednesday as local nonprofits scrambled to help coordinate shelter and transportation amid historic high migration.

From Dallas, the migrants will be helped with booking travel to their final destinations as they await court hearings that will probably include pleas for asylum.

About 50 of the migrants, who had already been processed by immigration officials in El Paso, arrived at Oak Lawn United Methodist Church around 7 a.m., where they were welcomed by volunteers. Nearly all traveled as families by bus and came from Bolivia, Ecuador, Haiti and Venezuela. One mother carried a 3-month-old girl. Another bus arrived in the afternoon.

They eventually will have to defend themselves from deportation in the crowded federal immigration courts.

“I can’t see people without a way to find their home, their destination,” said Almas Muscatwalla, executive director of Faith Forward Dallas. Muscatwalla said she believes larger changes are needed to repair a chaotic immigration system. But, she added, that’s a conversation for another day. In the interim, she is called to help.

“We feel, as faith leaders, it is the ethic of all of our traditions to welcome strangers into our home,” Muscatwalla said. “That exemplifies what society should be.”

Friendly faces

The first migrant families arriving at the stately brown brick church on Oak Lawn Avenue in the morning passed a sign that read: “All Are Welcome Here.” Some were far along in pregnancies. Others lacked shoes or hadn’t showered for weeks. But inside an air-conditioned hall, they received food such as chicken, eggs and energy bars, and help in planning travels to their next destinations, including cities in Florida, New York and New Jersey.

The first faces that greeted the migrants in Dallas were those of friendly volunteers representing a variety of faiths — and also a variety of reasons for their desire to help. Many of the volunteers were Christians, but others were Muslim or Jewish. A few were migrants themselves.

“Everyone has a unique situation,” said Mercy Torres, a 20-year-old volunteer from Ohio who took the 9-hour bus ride along with the migrants. Torres’ grandparents immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico. Like other volunteers, Torres saw her service as a way to give back.

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Oak Lawn United Methodist Church Pastor Isabel Marquez migrated to the U.S. from Mexico as a pregnant 17-year-old. She said she can relate to what those who got off the bus Wednesday have been through.

“I’ve been in their situation, and I’ve been in their shoes,” Marquez said while trying to coordinate flights and other logistics for the newly arrived migrants. “That’s why, when I welcome them here, I tell them they’re in a safe space.”

Volunteers needed

The church plans to receive buses once a week — with groups of 60 to 80 people each. There is no expected end time for the migrants’ arrival.

Meanwhile, there are needs: The church and Faith Forward are always looking for volunteers, as well as donations of money, clothes, backpacks and shoes. The church hopes to be able to install portable showers in its parking lot in the near future.

Rev. Isabel Marquez speaks with Almas Muscatwalla, executive director of Faith Forward...
Rev. Isabel Marquez speaks with Almas Muscatwalla, executive director of Faith Forward Dallas, while making travel arrangements for migrants who arrived from El Paso at Oak Lawn United Methodist Church in Dallas on Wednesday. (Elias Valverde II / Staff Photographer)

“People here are going beyond their differences,” said Muscatwalla, the Faith Forward leader. “If the divine is watching over us, he’s going to have a smile on his face.”

By 1 p.m. another bus of about two dozen migrants arrived at the church from a federal detention center in Anson, a tiny rural town about three hours west of Dallas, two volunteers said.

A young Nicaraguan man, who plans to make an asylum plea and only wanted to be identified by his first name of Milton, said he was overcome with joy when he was released from the center in Anson. Milton carried federal documents, including a notice to appear in a Dallas immigration court on July 11. He caught a bus Wednesday afternoon to Houston to reunite with family there.

Federal government spokespersons at DHS and a sister agency didn’t respond to questions about the arrival of the buses. Dallas is one of several cities across the U.S. under consideration by federal officials in a plan to move migrants to reduce overcrowding at the border, according to an NBC News report.

The transfers from El Paso were coordinated by Ruben García of the Catholic-oriented Annunciation House, a private nonprofit that has helped shelter migrants for decades. In recent years, García has run a network of 18 “hospitality sites,” including church halls and gyms in El Paso, Deming, N.M., Las Cruces, N.M., and Albuquerque. Customs and Border Enforcement and Immigration Customs Enforcement, agencies of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, released the families, García said.

In El Paso, a steady increase in arrivals this year at his shelters to about 3,000 a week prompted García to coordinate transfers to the Dallas nonprofits. While the El Paso private network can still handle those numbers, García said he wanted to avoid drop-offs of families on the streets, which happened recently during a peak day.

Local and federal governments aren’t prepared to help so many immigrants, whom García calls refugees, arguing they meet international standards for such a designation. That’s why more private volunteers at churches are needed, he said.

“There are people that are open to receiving refugees, ” García said. “There are people that don’t want to and say just send them all back.”

That’s when he asks: “Do you think it’s time to take down the Statue of Liberty? You know, should we just take it down and recycle the metal? And even people who are opposed to receiving any more immigrants, then they stop, and they get quiet.”

Anna Núñez, a volunteer with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said a few families didn’t have enough money to buy airline tickets to the East Coast, she said.

“It is heartbreaking to see so many families and babies and pregnant women,” Núñez said.

Núñez, a Spanish-speaking daughter of an immigrant, helped in relief efforts at the church last year. Especially helpful was Catholic Charities of Dallas, which provided buses and drivers to take families to the DFW International Airport, Núñez said.

Scope of migration arrests

In May, migration arrests by the U.S. Border Patrol hit a historic monthly high of about 222,000. The last time the monthly number was close to that high was March 2020 when there were 220,000 arrests, according to Border Patrol statistics.

Current numbers are inflated somewhat by Title 42, the controversial pandemic-related measure. The public health order results in many migrants trying to enter the U.S. multiple times because there are no legal consequences as there would be under immigration law.

The number of arrests represents how many times migrants attempted to cross the border — not the actual number of migrants arrested, immigration experts note. In May, federal immigration officials said a quarter of those encountered had made at least one other try to cross the border.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who is running for re-election, began sending dozens of migrants released by federal immigration officials in Del Rio to Washington, D.C., in mid-April, accusing the Biden administration of failing to manage immigration. Many migrants interviewed said they appreciated the free trips to the East Coast that put them closer to their intended destinations.

Shelters for asylum-seekers at border stretched thin


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