The warehouse is located on a busy but unremarkable strip of auto repair shops and convenience stores, attracting little attention from passersby.
Inside, hundreds of migrants are eating, charging their phones and using makeshift bathrooms and showers. Within hours, a security guard escorted them to a gravel yard out front, where commercial buses took them from the remote Texas town of Eagle Pass to San Antonio International Airport for $40. .
The Border Patrol releases up to 1,000 migrants a day at Mission: Border Hope. The nonprofit group has outlived a church and moved into a warehouse in April amid of the Biden administration rapidly expanding operations to release migrants on parole, especially those who are not subject to pandemic regulations that prevent migrants from applying for asylum.
The U.S. Border Patrol released more than 207,000 migrants who crossed into Mexico between August and May, including 51,132 in May, up 28% from April, according to the U.S. Border Patrol. Court records. In the previous seven months, it only parole 11 migrants.
Parole protects migrants from deportation for a certain period of time but does not offer much else. According to the law, The Department of Homeland Security may parole immigrants entering the United States “only on a case-by-case basis for urgent humanitarian reasons or important public interest.” Those granted amnesty can apply for asylum within a year.
According to court records, the Border Patrol moved to parole because of a lack of organizational space. It’s a small but far-reaching change from President Joe Biden’s first months in office and from his predecessors, Donald Trump and Barack Obama.
When agents couldn’t process the migrants fast enough to stand trial last year, thousands languished in detention under a bridge in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley. In 2019, oh packed a lot which some migrants used to stand on toilets.
Migrants released at the warehouse are required to report to immigration authorities in two months’ time at their final destination in the US. A handheld device tracks their movements.
“The cure [by US authorities] Anthony Montilla, 27 years old, Venezuelan, said. “They didn’t treat us like we were thieves.”
He arrived with his family after a journey that included walking through the infamous Panama Darien distance, where bandits rape young girls in front of their parents and corpses lie on the forest floor. After Border Patrol released the family on two-month parole, they went to a friend’s home in Washington, DC.
Jose Castillo, 43, from Nicaragua with his wife and 14-year-old son, after overcoming his fear of Drowning in Rio Grande. They went to Miami to live with a cousin. They say opposition to the Nicaraguan government has made them targets for repression.
The day Castillo was detained on the Border Patrol was “easy,” he said, but he would advise others not to go because of the risk of starvation or kidnapping in Mexico.
Mission: Border Hope, supported by the Unified Methodist Church, operates in an area that now rivals the Rio Grande Valley as the busiest corridor for illegal border crossings. Its service is modest compared to groups in other border cities that provide accommodation and transportation to the airport.
Valeria Wheeler, the chief executive officer who oversaw operations with the assembly line’s efficiency, said it started in 2000 with serving 25 to 50 migrants a week at a previous location.
On the busiest days, volunteers can’t keep up as they register migrants, buy bus tickets and handle other logistics, Wheeler said. In a typical day, there are 500 migrants, but the number of visitors can sometimes reach up to 1,000 people.
Boxes of spaghetti sauce, chicken and pork and bean soup were stacked near a makeshift kitchen. Migrants wait in clusters of metal benches and plastic chairs. A voice over the loudspeaker instructs people to get off Border Patrol buses and announces when commercial airport buses will pick up ticketed passengers.
The facility encourages migrants to leave quickly to make room for others, but about one in 10 ends up sleeping on concrete floors because they have nowhere to go.
“We weren’t set up to be a shelter,” said Wheeler, a former lawyer, as she walked through the windowless building, often interrupted by migrants with questions.
Migrants on parole say they were not screened for asylum or even asked why they came to the US. They receive a packet of pins with a blue stamp indicating when the parole expires.
That is in contrast to many others who were deported without the opportunity to apply for asylum under Title Authority 42, denied migrants were shot in asylum on the pretext of preventing the spread of COVID-19. A recent federal judge order it still in effect against the government’s objections.
Title 42 has been applied unequally, affecting largely migrants from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador because Mexico has agreed to take them back.
The head of the Border Patrol’s parent agency said migrants selected for parole have their criminal history checked and often go to families with addresses where they will stay in the US.
“We’re trying to be smart about that, recognizing that there are people who have been carefully screened but are at a much lower risk and it would make sense to treat them differently than others,” said Chris Magnus, Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, said in an interview.
Critics say the amnesty encourages more migrants to arrive and that the authorities are defying the legal requirement that the amnesty be granted on a “case-by-case basis”.
But Magnus said it was “much more efficient” and as effective as releasing them after Border Patrol agents were about to give notice to appear in immigration court.
That time-consuming job now belongs to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers as migrants report to them about their final destination.
Border Patrol still processes about 25,000 migrants a month for immigration court, which officers say can take more than an hour at a time. In comparison, parole is processed in minutes.
On a recent day, a Honduran woman who is about 8 months pregnant was given notice to appear in immigration court in Cleveland, where she plans to live with an uncle. Wheeler said it is unknown why some migrants are processed before immigration courts and others are pardoned – and her organization did not ask.
“Our aim is to provide safety,” she said.