Migrants sleep on the sidewalk this Monday morning in El Paso, a day after Biden’s visit.John Moore (Getty Images via AFP)
The Christian pastor Luis Ávila can hardly hide his disappointed face behind the mask. He learns from the reporter that Joe Biden has already left El Paso for a four-hour visit to the border. Ávila, who wore a suit on Sunday afternoon, and other believers in the ministry of the living Word had chosen their best clothes. They wanted to be prepared for the unlikely, that one of the most powerful men on earth would take a stroll around the intersection of Oregon and Father Rahm streets to get an up-close look at the epicenter of the humanitarian emergency the city is experiencing. which receives hundreds of immigrants every day. This didn’t happen. Biden limited himself to meeting with border patrol members and visiting a personnel processing center. “They were full of hope. They thought the President was going to tell them something,” Avila said.
“He’s gone? This is where it should have been. His knees would have buckled. This was the only good thing,” said Bertha Nerváez, a member of the Christian congregation. The temple to which it belongs is in El Paso and on the other side at the border in Ciudad Juárez. They have been coming to the aid of those arriving since mid-December. They are stationed in front of the Sacred Heart Church, which operates an overcrowded shelter that shelters hundreds of immigrants from Mexico, most of whom are Venezuelans.
Given the saturation of shelters, the daily limbo of these people takes place on the streets. Sleiter Alexander, 20, originally from Carabobo, Venezuela, said Sunday they risk being arrested by El Paso police if they walk two blocks from the church. “If we go any further, they’ll catch us and send us back to Mexico,” he says. Pastor Ávila also said some Venezuelans were stopped by police for crossing the street in the middle of the block, a minor offense in the US known as jaywalking. “It seems like an exaggeration to me, they should just admonish them because they don’t know that. It’s not their culture,” he said. The area in the center of the city has become a kind of ghetto, guarded by patrols who maintain the containment of the group with their presence.
Alexander had come with his wife, who at the age of 23 is expecting the young couple’s first child. This morning she is lying in an alleyway next to the shelter, on top of a makeshift bundle of donated clothes, Red Cross blankets and large black plastic bags. Around him children play football, men come and go in this suffocating environment. Sleiter, who has decided to leave Colombia for the United States, has been there for seven days and does not know when he will be able to continue on his way. He assures that an aunt of his is waiting for him in Miami. “It’s a chain. Friends keep telling me if and where you can get through,” he says with a smile and an inflatable horseshoe-shaped pillow around his neck.
President Joe Biden speaks with Border Patrol Agent Andrew Harnik (AP) during his visit to El Paso
Nerváez of the Christian congregation explains that these immigrants do not need food. Since mid-December, she and other members of the community have taken up residence with a table on the premises, where they offer coffee and water. That was the peak of the crisis. About 2,000 people crossed El Paso in what is believed to be the final hours of Title 42, an ordinance whose future rested in the hands of the judiciary. The Supreme Court dealt a blow to the Biden administration, which had called for the measure to end, and ordered the executive branch to keep it in place longer. According to immigration authorities, between 600 and 700 people come to this city every day.
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These days there are tables serving burritos and arepas from 8am to 8pm. The food will be provided by local restaurants, which have responded in the highest degree to the border emergency, which the right-wing media has dubbed a “crisis”. The shops in the area carry vegetables, fruit and leftovers of the day. The local government has kept two city transport service buses on site, which operate throughout the day. They’re full of immigrants who aren’t going anywhere. You sit inside all day to access WiFi and heating.
Citizens have also brought clothes to help immigrants withstand the cold Texas winter. This Monday, some people took cough syrup and medication because of the increase in colds and respiratory diseases.
Those who are there do not want alms. You are only looking for one. “An opportunity to fulfill our dreams,” says Jhon Carrasquero, 31, originally from Maracaibo. Those were the words the young man was supposed to say in English in case any member of the President’s entourage visited the shelter. But for Jhon, who carries his three university degrees rolled up in the back pocket of his trousers, the time has not yet come. In Venezuela, he was human resources manager, a position that paid less than $100 a month and that has evaporated in the economic crisis. He preferred to risk crossing nine countries rather than continue living in this reality. Tonight he will sleep under a bush in front of Sacred Heart Church, waiting to find out if the US government will give him the opportunity he is asking for.
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