On Friday, February 12, the Biden Administration announced plans to slowly allow asylum seekers with active cases to wait in the U.S. while their cases wind through immigration courts—instead of forcing them to remain in Mexico.
As of this writing, asylum seekers will be allowed to enter through three ports of entry—San Diego in California and Brownsville and El Paso in Texas. The latest reports predict El Paso will receive 25 – 30 asylum seekers per day once the government rolls back the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program.
“The immigration community in El Paso is overjoyed that the MPP program is ending, as we have seen the consequences it has had on our border community, especially our sister city of Ciudad Juárez,” states Todd Curry, board chair for our new JFON site in El Paso.
Although Justice for Our Neighbors El Paso—serving both West Texas and South New Mexico—will focus on representing asylum seekers in New Mexico’s notorious Otero Detention Center, immigration activists like Todd are also engaged in helping the area’s migrant families.
Currently, with the entire region experiencing dangerously cold weather conditions, there are immediate concerns for the many families on the Mexican side of the border who lack permanent housing.
“We have been working for months, planning on how to get those families jackets and warm clothes,” says Todd. “This storm is our worst nightmare realized.”
In the short term, Todd says, many local organizations are working to achieve a coordinated response to an expected influx of families from the disbanded MPP program.
“El Paso remembers all too clearly what happened in 2018 and 2019, when Border Patrol released a large numbers of asylum seekers in El Paso, initially at the downtown bus station, without any coordination with groups like Annunciation House, which have traditionally housed these families as they make their transition to the U.S.
“That history that we fear was actually the birthplace for the idea of Justice for our Neighbors El Paso. As non-profits and congregations rallied to feed and house these individuals, a small group of Methodists decided they were tired of reacting and wanted to be proactive instead.
“Personally, the initial influx in 2018 was what got me involved in serving the immigrant community here. I am a transplant, not from El Paso, and back then, didn’t know many people here.
“I initially bought jackets, then found myself making meals, and within a day, found myself organizing a medical response team to service the locations where these asylum seekers were staying. I mention this to say that El Paso is a special place, with institutions and people ready to step up and step in. COVID-19 makes all of this more difficult, but the compassion and strength of this community is unlike anywhere else I have lived.
“The immigration community in El Paso is very familiar these days with working together and coordinating. While there may be some stress to the system that is now in place, if the Biden administration is correct and a limited number of asylum seekers will be allowed to cross daily, we will manage just fine, with support of the community and city.”