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More Shelter Space Needed Due to Increase in Immigrant Families

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MCALLEN – Many families are packing into the Respite Center in McAllen, with an average of 500 people per day. It's set the shelter on a hunt for more space to accommodate them.

CHANNEL 5 NEWS reported on this Wednesday.

Now, we're taking a look at why they've become so crowded.

The surge of 2014 had many packing into shelters and filling up bus terminals. That year, 486,651 people were apprehended by Border Patrol nationwide.

In the Rio Grande Valley that same year, 256,393 were apprehended.

Apprehensions have not reached that level since then.

The nationwide total for the fiscal year of 2018 is 396,579 and in the Valley it’s 162,262. This downward trend is defied when looking at family units. (*See statistics below article.)

In fiscal year 2018, nationally there were 107,212 family units apprehended and 63,278 in the Valley – the Valley saw 10,952 more than during the surge.

The statistics are evident in downtown McAllen.

Children fill the seats at the Catholic Charities Respite Center. Many of them are from Central America.

"I don't have a job, there's a lot of violence. We just couldn't," says Vicente Jimenez Lopez, a Guatemalan father.

Lopez says he made the trip with his seven-year-old son. He left his wife and his two other children back home.

It's a similar choice made by Oscar Subcaal, who came here with his six-year-old daughter.

"We came here out of necessity because over there in Guatemala there's hardly a way to provide for your children,” he explains.

Families are coming to the U.S. by the thousands. This year, 63,278 have come to the Valley – that's about 10,000 more compared to the surge of 2014.

Family units are classified differently by Border Patrol.

Border Patrol Public Affairs Agent Marcelino Medina says, "A family unit can be comprised of a mother or a father and their child, or children."

These families will frequently surrender to Border Patrol, which will process them and check their criminal history.

"What's concerning is that sometimes we do encounter criminal aliens inside these groups trying to disguise themselves as family units,” says Medina.

After they're processed, they are taken by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. If they're released on their own recognizance, they're taken to temporary shelters like the Catholic Charities Respite Center.

They've been seeing more immigrants seeking assistance, says Director of Rio Grande Valley Catholic Charities Sister Norma Pimentel.

"Most recently, this week and last week numbers have gone even higher," she says.

The increase of family units was also seen nationally, but the Valley tends to see more Central Americans. And, the majority are coming with their families and hopes.

Fathers like Jimenez and Subcaal want to provide their children with better learning opportunities, even if it's for a short time.

Subcaal explains he wants to work and save money in the U.S., then he plans to return to Guatemala.

"I came to the U.S., that way we can buy some property (back home)," he says.

Pimentel says they're looking for space to house the many hoping to call the U.S. home.

"I'm working very closely with other partners that we can be able to have a space that can respond correctly to the high number of families that we've seen at the present time,” she says.

These two shelter locations will be temporary until their new respite center is constructed.

Pimentel tells CHANNEL 5 NEWS they have identified a spot downtown. She adds they needed it to be close to the bus station. 

She says it's going to be right across from the terminal.

They expect to open in the coming days.

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