Catholic Charities, a national non-profit organization, with offices in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas is doing something they haven’t done in the last five years that they’ve been caring for migrants: asking for housing help.
“The numbers are very high and continue to sustain themselves,” said Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.
The organization is currently working out of two locations and actively working with city officials to identify a centralized location to handle the uptick of migrants. They’ve also been in contact with Border Patrol, which is similarly feeling the strain amid an influx of migrants at the US-Mexico border.
Speaking from El Paso, Texas, on Wednesday, Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said that the agency on Monday encountered over 4,000 migrants, the highest total number of migrants in years.
In March, almost 40,000 children will come into CBP’s custody, McAleenan added, saying that that the “potential for a tragic incident” during a border crossing or in overwhelmed federal facilities is “clear and present.”
The agency has capacity to hold and process around 9,000 people, but as of Tuesday there were more than 12,000 migrants in Border Patrol custody across the US border with Mexico, a Department of Homeland Security official said.
CNN recently visited a converted warehouse in the Rio Grande Valley, which was designed in the wake of the 2014 unaccompanied minor crisis to hold 1,500 people. There were already 2,200 migrants detained at the border in the facility. That’s nearly double the number of people who were there last summer.
Last week, the Border Patrol in the Rio Grande Valley, began releasing people directly from its custody with a notice to appear in court – something that had not been done since 1998, according to a DHS official.
The agency is expanding its releases to a second location in the region due to continued overcrowding at its facilities. The top Border Patrol official in the Rio Grande Valley Sector, Chief Rodolfo Karisch, said Tuesday that CBP would begin to release some families from its custody in Brownsville, Texas.
“We are in an overcapacity situation, we cannot continue to hold onto these folks,” Karisch said.
The Border Patrol is releasing people from custody “not because we want to do it, but we are forced to right now,” Karisch added, saying the number of migrants arriving at the Texas border doesn’t appear to be slowing down.
On Tuesday, Border Patrol in the Rio Grande Valley apprehended just under 1,800 migrants in a 24-hour period, a “high-water mark” for the region, said Karisch.
The agency is prioritizing female-head-of-household families for release. Unaccompanied children are also a priority, but they are transferred to the custody of the Health and Human Services.
Border Patrol notified Catholic Charities at the start of last week to expect an increase in the number of families being released due to packed processing centers.
Catholic Charities has received between 600 to 900 people daily, according to Pimentel, compared to 300 to 400 a day earlier this month. Some of them will stay temporarily until they can secure a bus ticket north to their next destination where they’re expected to appear before an immigration judge.
“We are seeing a great number of people in need who are victims of crimes who need to be protected and cared for,” Pimentel told CNN. “Until we find solutions at the root cause, we will continue to see this great migration of families hurt and destroyed in the process.”
The demand has prompted Catholic Charities to seek additional help. At the request of the City of McAllen, the Salvation Army has begun providing shelter to 100 migrants a night.
“This is the first time that we’ve gone from just providing food to shelter,” said Captain Stephen Correira, commanding officer of the Salvation Army of McAllen, drawing a contrast from 2014, when there was a surge of unaccompanied minors at the southern border.
The organization had to flip a banquet hall in the facility to accommodate migrants.
In addition to housing, the Salvation Army is continuing to provide meals to migrants, though at a much higher rate. Previously, the Salvation Army provided 400 meals a week, they’re now providing 600 meals a day.
“That goes to show you how great the demand has increased,” Correira said.
All of this, of course, comes at a cost. And to that end, The Salvation Army of McAllen is in discussion with the southern territorial office about trying to obtain additional funds.
Alvin Migues, director of Emergency Disaster Services at the Salvation Army Texas division, noted that funds that might be provided do not have to be designated for disasters, there are other avenues of funding that could be taken as well.
Similarly, the City of McAllen, which has played a key role in supporting efforts, is preparing for the costs incurred.
Roy Rodriguez, McAllen city manager, also cited the surge of unaccompanied minors at the southern border in 2014, noting that the city is “trying to be proactive” this time around given that they may request reimbursements for expenses incurred from the state and federal government.
“For us, it’s real simple: We have immigrants in our city and if we don’t at least have a controlled process, then the alternative doesn’t look real bright,” Rodriguez said.