EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Manuel Padilla spent part of his day off from work with his wife and daughter handing out water, blankets and granola bars to the migrants staying in tents and on sidewalks along Overland Street.
“We saw the Facebook posts and we felt bad. We decided to go to Sam’s and grab some stuff. We’re trying to give back as much as we can,” the El Paso car salesman said on Tuesday. Around him, women looked after restless children, men sent text messages on their mobile phones and volunteers stopped in vehicles to drop off bottled water, sodas and clothes.
The scene played out Tuesday in a city that has seen the U.S. Border Patrol release more than 1,000 paroled migrants in its Downtown since last Wednesday. A perfect storm of increased migration, a Border Patrol processing center three times above its normal capacity, nonprofit shelters starving for beds and volunteers, and a sudden surge of arrivals from Venezuela ineligible for expulsion and have led to the releases. In addition, many Venezuelans are staying in El Paso longer than they want to because they have no U.S. sponsors and lack money to get out.
City officials are trying to relieve the pressure by busing people out of town as soon as possible. On Monday, they awarded a charter bus company a $2 million contract, and Office of Emergency Management personnel could be seen on Overland Street on Tuesday recruiting migrants for the next bus to New York City.
But at least one border expert believes more will be needed, as the El Paso, Texas-Juarez, Mexico, corridor is likely to see even more migration in months to come.
“It’s absolutely going to continue. It’s going to get worse before it gets better,” said Victor M. Manjarrez Jr., director of the Center for Law and Human Behavior at the University of Texas at El Paso. “The flow continues and when there is no consequence, when there is success, you call back home and people start asking, how do we replicate that?”
The former U.S. Border Patrol sector chief in El Paso and Tucson, Arizona, said the mass arrival of the Venezuelans to a Texas city where few of them have friends or relatives does not happen by chance. “Once we had a big surge of Polish nationals in Naco, Arizona. Why Naco? Well, that’s what they (smugglers) were advertising on TV in Warsaw: ‘If you want to go to the United States, the gateway right now is Naco, Arizona.’”
Regardless of who is pointing the Venezuelans to El Paso and why they chose to come now, the fact is that political and economic upheaval in that South American country is justifiably driving many out of their homeland, another UTEP educator says.
The Venezuelan conundrum
More than 1.5 inches of rain fell in El Paso late Monday. Water runoff forced many of the single adults and families with children along Overland Street to crowd into small tents or move to the side of the street with fewer water puddles.
Luis Javier, a Venezuelan migrant, said he and his two small boys were able to weather the storm. “We went through the same thing in Panama. It rained for two days but we did not have a tent,” he said, adding that he’s been living on the streets of El Paso since being released from immigration custody on Monday. “They gave us the paper and now we’re going to give the best of ourselves in this country.”
Luis Javier talked about leaving his country because of low wages and political favoritism. He believes he had no choice but to leave, but if he had to do it over again, he would not have brought his children. “That jungle (in Panama) is terrible. You suffer hunger, you see people dying around you, you hear of women who were raped. Even a young man 25 years old died of a heart attack. You must be mentally fit as well as physically fit to make it out,” he said.
Liliavi, a child psychologist, said she endured a similar journey to escape the low wages. Already, she had migrated from Venezuela to Brazil when she and other members of her family decided to go all in on the United States.
“They have different fees for different nationalities. If you are from Haiti or Cuba, you pay a transportation fee, if you are from Venezuela, it’s a different fee,” she said. “The people who transport you take advantage of the needs of the migrant in every country.”
Abel Molina, a taxi driver from Venezuela, said he came to the United States because gasoline shortages and the cost of parts for his vehicle made it impossible for him to make a living. In addition, basic food items and medication are so expensive that Venezuelans must choose between buying milk and poultry, or clothes and new shoes.
“My wages were $28 a month. If I needed a new tire, that’s $100. Where was I going to get that?” he said. “You had very long lines at gas stations, and when it was your turn, they told you they had run out of gas. We’re here looking for a better future, and I hope to be reunited with my daughter in Kansas.”
UTEP Liberal Arts Dean Anadeli Bencomo, a native of Venezuela, said it’s hard to believe how things have taken a turn for the worse in her homeland in recent years.
She said many Latin American nations now require visas from Venezuelans, which not all are able to get and which has reduced the number of flights out of the capital of Caracas. That is one of the factors forcing Venezuelans to travel on foot or procure alternate transportation.
“There are many crises going on in Venezuela. There is no single solution for that situation. Classes are online because the government can’t pay for school (expenses), people are lacking opportunities and young professionals are leaving,” she said. “I don’t know if they will return because there is no confidence in the political and economic system. There is no single magical solution to stop the migration.”
The migrants interviewed on Tuesday said they were grateful to the Biden administration for letting them into the country. They also expressed fears of being denied asylum and sent back to their home countries.
“We are afraid of being deported. If we go back to our country, they will put us in jail because they are always trying to find out who wants to leave the country. We will become political prisoners,” said migrant Karina Yaosca.