Dozens of migrants arrived in Dallas on Tuesday and Wednesday after a three-hour bus ride from one of the several detention centers in Texas, where thousands of other migrants are still being processed for entry into the United States. For most, Oak Lawn United Methodist Church is but a brief pit stop on a lengthy journey.
Almas Muscatwalla of Faith Forward Dallas sounds calm over the phone. When we talk she’s in the middle of helping 20 newly arrived migrants arrange the next steps in their new country. But instead of sounding rushed or frenzied, as one might expect of someone coordinating such an undertaking, she sounds like this is business as usual, like she’s been here and done this many times before.
That’s because Faith Forward has been doing this for years. She says that since 2018 her group has partnered with churches, organizations and the city to help migrants find their way to family members in other parts of the country or to the places where their immigration court hearings will be held.
Immigration in its various forms is one of the hottest of hot button issues today, and it doesn’t take much for people to form passionate opinions about what they’re seeing on cable news and the headlines they skim on social media. But this isn’t like when Dallas sheltered thousands of immigrant boys in the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center in 2021 for weeks and months at a time, nor is it like what Texas governor Greg Abbott has been doing with his migrant busing in recent months.
Muscatwalla says many news headlines and preconceived notions really don’t fit what is happening in town right now. Dallas isn’t being turned into a North Texas version of El Paso.
“This is the first point before going to where they have family or where their court date is to continue the legal immigration process” – Almas Muscatwalla, Faith Forward Dallas
For starters, hardly any of the migrants arriving this week in Dallas require overnight shelter. While it’s available, Muscatwalla stresses that for those whom her group and fellow faith-based group Dallas Responds assist, the emphasis is on helping them move along to their next destination quickly.
“Right now I’m helping them book their tickets,” she said on Tuesday afternoon. “There might be one person who stays overnight because we couldn’t get a flight until early in the morning, but most will be heading out before the end of the day. This has been the case the whole time we’ve been doing this, regardless of Title 42.”
Title 42 is part of the U.S. public health code that permits the rapid expulsion of asylum seekers and other migrants during public health emergencies. Former President Donald Trump invoked Title 42 during the COVID pandemic to expel millions of migrants seeking entry to the U.S. The Biden administration attempted to end the process on Dec. 21 but was stymied by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who issued a temporary stay while a challenge by several states to Biden’s decision awaits action by the court.
On Tuesday, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins told Fox 4 News, “This is not a government-led initiative, but a faith-led initiative.” Also, Muscatwalla says that it’s important to note that the migrants arriving in Dallas by bus are doing so legally. On Tuesday she worked with people seeking asylum from Turkey, China and Mexico. She expected another day of diverse migrant origins on Wednesday.
“All the people we receive here have been processed by the Border Patrol and have an alien number,” she says. “This is the first point before going to where they have family or where their court date is to continue the legal immigration process. It’s a quick operation where we process them by providing hospitality and travel assistance. We help them book tickets, we provide some food and clothing and we also share our compassion with them, our humanity with them for a few hours.”
Muscatwalla says that as difficult and chaotic as it might seem to coordinate so many details for so many migrants on a weekly basis, it continues to be an orderly process. Multiple established non-government organizations are involved, and communication with immigration and border authorities in El Paso has been “very organized,” she says.
Most people who come through Dallas for this type of migrant processing have been in a detention center for about 15 days, though many have been there even longer. Many are not looking to end up in North Texas, so when they get to Dallas, they’re usually only one step closer to getting where they need to be. Their new lives are still waiting for them somewhere else, somewhere farther from the home and family they left behind.
A couple of buses with only 20 per trip will not be the case once Title 42 is lifted, Muscatwalla suggests. When the government’s ability to easily expel migrants from the United States is hindered, it’s safe to envision that Muscatwalla and those she works with will be much busier, but she’s ready for that. She has a unique perspective that she leans on in order to stay prepared.
“Compassion is what we need to show them,” she says of the migrants she’ll assist. “They’re just like us, they dream like us, they have the same aspirations as us. I am an immigrant myself, so I am not any different than them, it’s just our current situations are different. I came here in 1998 with my two young children to improve their quality life, which is all these migrants want to do.”