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Drastic Drop in Migrant Families Released to Valley Shelters

2 months 12 hours 36 minutes ago Thursday, August 22 2019 Aug 22, 2019 August 22, 2019 8:17 PM August 22, 2019 in News - Local

WESLACO – A drastic change in the number of migrant families released at shelters is visible across the Rio Grande Valley. 

Last October, McAllen began seeing more migrant families dropped off at the Catholic Charities Respite Center.

In April, a mass release was seen across the Valley. In just a month's span, a new policy is credited with turning all of that around.

Crowded dining halls, limited sleeping space and long intake lines greeted up to 120 migrants daily in Brownsville as they arrived at Good Neighbor Settlement House in April.

Marianela Watson, shelter director, adds, "19,237 so far in this year have walked through these doors and from 27 different countries. Thank God for Google Translate, let me tell you."

Watson now sits in a largely empty hall.

"We've been getting like less than ten [migrants] a day – anywhere from three, to seven, to five. Like today, we just got a lady with her baby and we're getting ready to have a family of three. Tonight, after six o'clock, we're probably getting ready to get a couple of more families."

Good Neighbor Settlement House opened their doors to migrants after McAllen's respite center overflowed in the spring when they began seeing nearly 600 people arrive daily.

The shelter had to move to accommodate the crowds. 

Now, they're averaging about 200 people a day, but last week they witnessed a drastic drop.

Sister Norma Pimentel, director of Catholic Charities, says, "It was not empty, but we had three or four families and that's all. So, that is almost empty, because the fact that it is such a large facility that we have right now at the center. Definitely, the numbers were very low."

Both shelters began seeing a difference about a month ago.

Watson says, "I blame it on the MPP."

The Migrant Protection Protocol program started in the Valley in mid-June.

Asylum seekers are now sent to Matamoros to wait out their immigration court hearing that will be held on the U.S. side of the border.

The process can take up to a year. Watson says this is shifting their mission.

They are now helping Team Brownsville feed, clothe and help migrants waiting on the Mexican side of the bridge.

At least once last week, each shelter closed early. Yet, they remain steadfast in their purpose.

Sister Pimentel assures, "Our operation will not change, because it's the same need that one or 100 or more families would need."  

For now, Watson says the decrease may be helping their budget, but they rather be helping people.

"Right now, I'd like to say, 'oh, we don't need anything', but I know the minute we say that all of this is going to get turned around," she says.

Other factors like the third-country policy and enhanced Mexican enforcement could also be factors in the shrinking numbers.

The seasonal decrease brought on by the summer temperatures are also keeping shelter officials skeptical of the long-lasting effects.

They continue welcoming monetary and in-kind donations.

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