McALLEN, Texas — Exhausted and dazed, hundreds of Central American migrants, mainly women with small children, come to the bus station of this border city every day now, spilling into a church next door that has opened its doors. Having crossed into the United States illegally, the new arrivals are often grimy and famished. In the church, they eat, bathe and sleep, changing into donated shoes and clothes.
With no immigration detention facility equipped for women with children in the area — the closest one, in Pennsylvania, is overbooked — they are freed by the Border Patrol with a bus ticket to travel to relatives in this country, and an order to appear in immigration court in 30 days.
They are among at least 30,000 migrants released this year, border officials and federal lawmakers said, amid a surge of illegal crossings in the Rio Grande Valley.
While most men are held and processed quickly for deportation, border authorities struggling to manage the influx have been releasing pregnant women and parents with young children, allowing them to join family members living in the United States while deportation hearings are pending. Migrants have sent word back home that they received a “permit” to remain at least temporarily in the United States, feeding rumors along migrant routes and spurring others to embark on the long journey.
“I heard in Guatemala that people were caught by immigration, but then they let them go and gave them a permit,” said Carmen Ávila, 26, who is seven months pregnant and came with her 4-year-old son, Jostyn. “The word got around, and that’s why so many people are coming.”
Migrants in McAllen said they planned to attend their court hearings and fight for a chance to stay. But officials have no specific plan to monitor compliance, and based on the pace of the overburdened immigration courts, it seems highly unlikely that any of the migrants would be deported soon.
The Obama administration has focused on the sudden increase in South Texas of young migrants traveling without their parents, calling it a humanitarian crisis and naming the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate shelter and care. But the unaccompanied youths are part of a larger flow of Central Americans that officials say also includes unprecedented numbers of families with small children.
On Saturday, Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat who represents a South Texas district, said he saw nearly 1,000 migrants of all ages packed in frigid, concrete-block holding cells when he visited the Border Patrol station (normal capacity: 400) in Hidalgo.
After the Border Patrol began to release migrants in McAllen early last week, hundreds came to the refuge that community volunteers and city officials hastily set up in the Sacred Heart Catholic Church.
In Washington, the increase in illegal immigration has provoked a new argument between the White House and Republicans. Obama administration officials insist that factors in Central America, including poverty and criminal violence, are driving the migrants. Republicans blame lax enforcement by the administration. Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va. and House Judiciary Committee chairman, will hold a hearing next week on what he described as “an administration-made disaster.”
At the church, some women said the talk about an entry permit, which has intensified in the past two months, had prompted them to set out on the risk-filled journey across Mexico. But the women said they were moved mainly by desperate worries about their children, with poverty unrelenting in their countries and warring street gangs expanding their control.
Since October more than 47,000 unaccompanied youths have been apprehended along the Southwest border, and border officials estimate that number may double by the end of this year.
Smugglers have stoked the permit rumors, migrants and border agents said, since they profit from the traffic.United States - North America - Texas - Central America - Latin America and Caribbean - Mexico - Henry Cuellar - McAllen