EL PASO, Texas — For the last couple of days, the lonely corner of Overland Avenue and Santa Fe Street in El Paso, Texas, has become home for Luis Cubillan, 41, and his family after leaving Venezuela over a month ago.
“Welcome to our home,” Cubillan comically told VICE News while folding an old rug they used as a mattress to sleep at night. “This is my wife, my two daughters, my two grandsons, and my stepson.”
Cubillan and his family have been traveling for more than a month to reach the U.S. and escape the violence and instability in their home country. They had to wait more than 30 hours under a bridge right across the Rio Grande River where Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents processed a crowd of over 1,000 people, mostly from Venezuela. But after getting processed by El Paso immigration authorities, Cubillan and his family learned they had nowhere to stay.
Since the beginning of September, over 1,100 migrants have been arriving every day in El Paso, more than 90 percent of them from Venezuela, according to the city’s CBP authorities. The influx has completely overwhelmed the city’s immigration shelters, and since most have no U.S. sponsor—support to get a visa to stay lawfully in the U.S.—immigration authorities have to release nearly 500 migrants a day into the streets of El Paso. And about 1,000 stay there to sleep every night.
“We went to two different shelters and both said they were full and that they would be in touch soon, but now all we want is to leave,” Cubillan said.
Currently the population at the CBP’s Central Processing Center in El Paso is at full capacity with up to 3,400 migrants, according to official figures.
“We went to two different shelters and both said they were full and that they would be in touch soon, but now all we want is to leave.”
Under the current COVID-19 expulsion order, migrants arriving at the U.S. border are being automatically expelled to Mexico or deported to the countries they came from.
Mexico has only agreed to take Mexican, Guatemalan, Honduran, and Salvadoran families and single adults encountered at the southern border, leaving Venezuelans, along with other nationalities, in limbo. The policy has forced the U.S. to fly Venezuelans back to their country or in some cases to Colombia.
El Paso residents have been helping out migrants like Cubillan and his family by delivering water, clean clothes, food, and even buying bus tickets for them, to go to other destinations inside the U.S.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has been busing migrants out of Texas from border cities like Laredo, Del Rio, and most recently El Paso, and taking them to cities in blue states like Chicago, New York, and Washington.
Earlier this week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis also sent at least two planes full of undocumented immigrants, including children, from San Antonio, Texas, to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. The migrants reportedly didn’t know where they were going and were wooed with promises of expedited work papers.
In El Paso, the city is also busing migrants to different parts of the country, according to local authorities.
“We are working with Washington to get the resources, to have the flights, the buses available to get people to their destinations, and they’re going to make that available to us so we can decompress so we don’t hit those three-to-four thousand people that are at ICE [the processing center],” El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser told Border Report.
But not all of the migrants have sponsors to house them in the near future and have to look for their own ways to stay in the U.S.
When Cubillan and his family left Venezuela they had no clue what their destination would be, and although he’s found a place to take his family after leaving El Paso, he still has no clue what’s going to sustain them.
“We are going to Utah. It is a state that I’ve looked into, its security and the photos we’ve seen online. It looks nice to start a new life there,” Cubillan said. “We’ll see what we can do. God will find a way to help us to get a job or two, even if it's selling sandwiches on the streets.”
In downtown Ciudad Juarez, the Rio Grande splits the U.S. and Mexico and has become a popular—but dangerous—crossing point for many migrants. But since the Mexican government has closed the dams to gather rainwater, the central and eastern part of the river remains almost empty.
Instead of risking drowning, migrants can now freely walk across the muddy river. Local taxis and even smugglers charge around $200 to drop them off so they can hand themselves over to the U.S. Border Patrol.
During the few first hours of Wednesday morning, VICE News saw over 600 people gathered at the same place where the U.S. Border Patrol started improvising a migrant camp with portable toilets and plastic tents. In a span of two hours driving along the border, we witnessed at least two groups of migrants, including several women and children, crossing from Ciudad Juarez to El Paso.
During the recent uptick in Venezuelans arriving at the border, Biden’s administration has tried to press Mexico to accept more migrants from the country, as well as Cuba and Nicaragua, according to sources speaking exclusively with Reuters.
But while both governments work the details out, thousands of migrants, including Cubillan’s family, remain hopeful for a brighter future.
“We’ve gone through a lot, and we really can’t go back to Venezuela,” Cubillan said. “I just hope that this country embraces me and my family better than my own country.”
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