A California desert town sees surge in migrants as border crisis worsens
The little boy playing in the parking lot of a Seventh-day Adventist Church here was startled when three U.S. Customs and Border Protection vehicles pulled in.
Favio Ferreira, a 7-year-old from Guatemala, ran inside to tell the others.
“Come, come, la migra!” he said.
But the agents weren’t there to round up people who were in the country illegally. They were dropping immigrants off.
The scene that unfolded recently in this desert city about 100 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border exemplifies how the immigration crisis has spilled over into communities farther north.
With a historic flow of Central American families fleeing poverty and violence, federal officials earlier this spring began releasing migrants on their own recognizance from inundated detention centers in growing numbers. About 175,000 have left custody since Dec. 21.
Nonprofit and faith-based organizations in Riverside and San Bernardino counties are among those that have stepped in to help the asylum seekers. But the mounting costs have raised doubts — among local officials and advocates alike — about how long they can keep doing so.
Many of the drop-offs have taken place in Blythe, a city of about 20,000 along the Colorado River across from Arizona. Since March, said Riverside County spokeswoman Brooke Federico, 2,600 migrants have arrived here.
In the parking lot of the Adventist church, men and women exited two trucks and a van, clutching documents in one hand and gathering children with the other. One man carried his daughter on his back.
The arriving families were to join 40 migrants who already had been processed, bringing the total number at the shelter to 74.
Maria Crespo-Lind, who manages the church with her husband, welcomed the newcomers in Spanish and directed them to 14 folding tables stationed in the center of a gym. The men and women sat quietly. They looked fatigued, many with bags under their eyes and unwashed hair.
A large U.S. map hung on a whiteboard. Volunteers in the kitchen made small talk as they prepared breakfast: scrambled eggs, beans and country potatoes. Crespo-Lind began counting how many mouths there were to feed.
“We’d like to know, how many of you are coming from Guatemala,” she said.
Almost everyone raised their hands, including their children.
“How many of you are from Nicaragua?”
No one responded.
The man who had carried his daughter on his back raised his hand.
Before the migrants were offered a meal, clean clothes and showers, Crespo-Lind led them in prayer. A little girl with black hair stared at her juice box, resting her chin on her hands, whispering amen at the conclusion.
The surge in migrant families along the southwestern border began to put a strain on holding facilities in March.
During a news conference that month in El Paso, Kevin K. McAleenan, commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said that the immigration system had reached its breaking point. Since October, Border Patrol agents have apprehended more than 610,000 people trying to enter the U.S.
“We are going to continue to do everything we can to manage this crisis,” McAleenan said.
Peter Schey, president of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, said the chaos at the border has been largely created by the Trump Administration’s limiting space at some detention centers and the delayed releases of unaccompanied minors. Under federal law, migrant children cannot be held in detention for more than 20 days.
“All in all, President Trump’s policies at the border are causing the Border Patrol to be overwhelmed,” Schey said.
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