As thousands of migrants congregate underneath the Del Rio International Bridge, the Archbishop of San Antonio says the archdiocese will help however possible, but he fears an already overwhelming situation for the border city will get worse.
The number of migrants underneath the bridge grew to more than 8,000 on Thursday with some reports indicating more than 9,000. Del Rio Mayor Bruno Lozano said on Wednesday that there were at least 20,000 more migrants en route from Mexico.
“To hear the numbers in the past few hours it’s really overwhelming,” Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonio told Crux Thursday afternoon. “For many years we have been serving migrants and refugees in Del Rio but now it is a bit overwhelming and the city itself does not have the capacity to absorb.”
García-Siller noted that Del Rio is only a “small piece” of the Texas-Mexico border, therefore it doesn’t have the infrastructure to process this high volume of migrants unlike other border cities like Brownsville, McAllen and El Paso.
For example, in McAllen the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley Humanitarian Respite Center has a capacity of about 1,200 and of late has helped 800-900 migrants on a daily basis. There isn’t a center in Del Rio with that kind of capacity.
García-Siller explained that it’s also difficult for Del Rio to transport migrants inland to San Antonio, a city better suited to handle the processing, because it’s “three and a half hours from here to there and there’s not much in between.” He added that they’re simultaneously trying to accommodate about 800 refugees from Afghanistan, further complicating the situation.
The number of asylum seekers in Del Rio has steadily increased throughout the week with the majority coming from Haiti, with a smaller number arriving from Cuba and Venezuela. Haiti has faced two tragedies in recent months: President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in July, then a 7.2 magnitude in August that destroyed buildings and homes and killed thousands.
“This is a humanitarian crisis,” García-Siller said. “To hear that people are coming not from the typical places – El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala – but they’re coming from Haiti, Cuba and Venezuela means these people must be in desperate situations trying to find a better life.”
The archbishop said over the past few days people with the archdiocese have been helping prepare food for the migrants and will continue to be a presence.
“We will be open to do all that we can for people,” García-Siller said.
García-Siller admitted, however, that in the coming days the response is likely going to take collaboration between different organizations – nonprofits, interfaith groups – to try and get a handle on the situation.
García-Siller said another challenge will be a more complicated language barrier with people coming from Haiti that speak French. The Archdiocese of San Antonio is using a connection it established with people from the Congo to create dialogue with the migrants, he said.
The Texas and federal governments on Thursday went back and forth over how they were handling the situation. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott initially ordered state law enforcement agencies to shut down six points of entry along the southern border. Abbott then released a statement later in the day that the Biden administration had “flip-flopped” to a different strategy.
The Texas Department of Public Safety corroborated Abbott’s claim on social media claiming that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection asked them to assist in shutting down ports of entry in Del Rio before being told that was no longer a part of the plan.
Dennis Smith, a spokesperson for the CBP, told the Texas Tribune that the agency hadn’t been told to shut down ports of entry, and that they were coordinating efforts with the Department of Homeland Security, other federal, state and local partners to address the situation.
García-Siller put the onus on the government for creating this situation by not working towards immigration reform. The House Judiciary Committee earlier this week approved measures for the forthcoming budget reconciliation bill that would be a step towards immigration reform, though he questions politicians’ real concern for the border.
“There’s not been an attempt to resolve the situation, to think about the situation, to bring reflection and be critical about it, especially from the top,” García-Siller said. “We don’t see a real engagement and so for what is going on right now we need that kind of engagement if we want to do something,”
The archbishop said the archdiocese is finalizing the purchase of property in Del Rio to create a new migrant center, but cautioned they will need to buy more infrastructure because the way it’s going “this is not going to end.”