ICE Relies on El Paso Migrant Shelter to Accomodate Flood of Central American Immigrants

By Joseph J. Kolb on December 14, 2016

Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas, has been a respite for immigrants for nearly 40 years, but is currently struggling to service the flood of immigrants from Central America referred to it directly by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Ruben Garcia, director of Annunciation House, told us that ICE has run out of detention center space for family units and has referred thousands to his agency after initial processing, some 1,000 per week since November.

"All of these people are being released pending their first court appearance because there isn't enough space in the existing detention facilities," Garcia said. "Everybody is in some form of removal proceedings."

Garcia went on to stress that he categorically does not believe that poor people should be detained unless they are a danger to the community.

"We are committed to receive everyone ICE releases to help them in their journey to be united with family members," said Garcia.

Garcia expressed concern about impending immigration policy of the new administration, saying that once President-Elect Trump takes office he will request appropriations to fund more detention facilities.

A unique "processing center" recently opened in the El Paso suburb of Tornillo, Texas, will provide temporary housing for 500 people. The complex is made up of framed canvas buildings and is only expected to house apprehended immigrants for up to 72 hours.

"In 2014, it was primarily the Rio Grande Valley Sector that saw the massive numbers of families and children," U.S. Border Patrol Agent Chris Cabrera told Breitbart Texas in his capacity as president of National Border Patrol Council Local 3307. "Now we are seeing increases in every sector — some as high as 200 percent."

Annunciation House assists immigrants with temporary housing, which Garcia says averages three days, a place to shower, eat, and transportation aid to join a friend or family member pending the outcome of their case.

In the past week, Garcia said the number being referred to his facility has slightly dropped to 600 people. Still a daunting number in the crisis the federal government has been forced to address, causing them to reach out to the migrant shelter.

Garcia said that since his El Paso facility was established in the city's historic Segundo Barrio, which abuts the Mexican border and has been home to generations of immigrants, he has seen surges and waves, but that he recent wave is somewhat unique. He believes this current wave of Central American immigrants will eventually be larger than the one in 2014, which President Obama designated a humanitarian crisis.

"This surge hasn't gotten the media attention the surge in 2014 did," said Garcia. "We're extremely busy in the hospitality mechanism right now."

Figures from U.S. Customs and Border Protection bear out Garcia's suspicion. In FY 2014 there were 68,445 family unit apprehensions, followed by a drop to 39,838 in FY 2015. By the end of FY 2016 the number of apprehensions shot back up to 77,674.

Pursuant to the rush of 2014, Garcia said ICE reached out to Annunciation House for assistance, a request he says he never expected since there has been long-standing tension between the two group's missions. This has evolved into a close working relationship out of necessity.