Buses full of migrant families from Laredo and Del Rio are being driven to Dallas, where confused passengers are dropped off in an effort to alleviate overcrowding in border cities. And the unannounced trips from Laredo are sending city officials and Spanish-speaking police officers scrambling to provide them shelter.
At least three buses have arrived in the last two weeks, illustrating how an unusual spike in border migration in the heat of the summer has created a ripple effect in North Texas. A fourth bus from Del Rio arrived Wednesday evening with migrant families from Haiti and Cuba.
The buses from Laredo were chartered by the city of Laredo, where Mayor Pete Saenz has said his border city is overwhelmed with migrants transferred there by the U.S. Border Patrol in the Rio Grande Valley as the coronavirus pandemic hammers local hospitals. Laredo spokeswoman Noraida Negron confirmed that Laredo chartered buses to send migrants to Dallas, Austin and Houston, sending about 800 migrants north.
The Del Rio drop-offs were coordinated through nonprofits, religious leaders said.
None of the Laredo migrants had been tested for COVID-19 before their seven-hour trip to Dallas, said Negron. The testing has been a flashpoint as Texas hospitals have struggled with COVID-19 infections due to the fast-spreading delta variant. The Border Patrol does not test migrants at its facilities before they are released to nonprofits for eventual transfer to the U.S. interior, where they typically await dates in immigration court.
Almas Muscatwalla — executive director of Faith Forward Dallas at Thanks-Giving Square, one of the religious groups assisting migrant families who come from Central America, Haiti and Cuba and are often seeking asylum — said it was unclear whether the migrants from Del Rio had been tested, but all migrants are provided with masks and hand sanitizer. A medical doctor and nurse practitioner will be meeting with the most recent migrant arrivals Wednesday night, she said.
After their sudden arrival in Dallas, the migrants are given food, hotel rooms, transportation to airports or bus stations and limited medical care by local nonprofits.
“This is like survival of the fittest,” said Muscatwalla. But she added, “I’d rather have this situation than not have anyone helping … I want to provide the best hospitality and welcome to these people.”
Dave Woodyard, executive director of Catholic Charities of Dallas, said his staff helped calm and care for migrant families Friday and Saturday in downtown Dallas. There were about 40 to 50 migrants each day. Catholic Charities paid for hotel rooms, and Spanish-speaking police officers rushed to purchase fresh diapers for the children.
Christina da Silva, officer for the Welcoming Communities and Immigrant Affairs office within the city of Dallas, said a staffer with Greyhound Lines Inc. called city police at 911 when one bus arrived. That started a chain of help, from police to volunteers, at the bus depot last Friday, and then again on Saturday about 11 p.m. Some migrant families didn’t know what city they were in. Some children lacked shoes.
“It’s such a vulnerable situation for them,” said da Silva, who assisted with the migrant families.
“Dallas is a welcoming city. We want to respect their dignity as a human.”
Meanwhile, at the border in Brownsville on Thursday, the head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is expected to survey the challenges from migrant apprehensions that reached about 210,000 in July. About 6 out of 10 people are quickly expelled from the border under a Trump-era policy called Title 42 linked to the coronavirus pandemic.
That policy has also caused a sharp increase in repeat crossings, so each apprehension doesn’t necessarily represent a new immigrant’s attempt to cross. In June, about a third of those apprehended were repeat crossers — an increase from the mere 7% who had tried a second and third time in 2019.
The Rio Grande Valley is the busiest region for migration.
The Laredo mayor is one of the invitees to the high-profile visit Thursday to the Rio Grande Valley by Alejandro Mayorkas, the DHS chief who warned earlier that migration will soon reach levels not seen in two decades as people flee poverty and natural disasters in nations such as Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.