EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Even before Sunday’s tragedy in South Texas, migrants in Downtown El Paso were worried about their safety. They not only feared the possibility of being struck by a vehicle while sleeping on sidewalks but also of running into someone in America with hateful intentions.
“There is a lot of racism. We are not safe at all. All we can do is trust in God,” said Jewny, a Venezuelan migrant sitting on a shaded area of a Fourth Street sidewalk.
She and her travel companions say they’ve learned from other migrants in the Sacred Heart Church sanctuary of armed threats against asylum-seekers in El Paso. In January, federal officials filed charges against a 27-year-old man who pointed a gun at migrants near the Catholic church.
On Monday, several El Paso Police Department squad cars and bicycle patrols could be seen monitoring the area. The City of El Paso over the weekend installed temporary vehicle barriers on Father Rahm Street next to the church for the migrants’ safety.
Alejandro Porteles, a Venezuelan father, expressed gratitude for the barriers and the police presence. But he said neither will stop someone intent on coming to harm the migrants.
“We don’t feel safe. It’s a public street. It has (traffic in) four directions. They closed one (corner), but if a car comes from another (side) with enough speed, we are all in the hands of God,” said Porteles, adding he put away candy that a passer-by gave his son earlier. “If you’re racist, I don’t know. If I’m racist, you don’t know. We cannot know people’s intentions. If it’s something bad, I’d rather starve.”
Heidy, a Honduran migrant in her early 20s, said the priority of the several hundred people living in and around the church is to leave El Paso. That’s complicated for those who did not turn themselves over to Border Patrol and were released on parole, but rather came over the wall undetected and remain undocumented.
“I’ve been here one week, surviving. Nothing bad has happened to me but I want to leave as soon as possible,” she said. Meantime, “it would be better if we were not on the streets.”
El Paso Catholic Diocese Bishop Mark J. Seitz said Sacred Heart is one of three migrant shelters the church is operating in El Paso. He said a fourth, “much larger one” would be opening soon. But he fears that would not be enough to provide every migrant coming through El Paso with a safe space.
“I’m very frustrated because we don’t seem to be able to pull together all the resources we need,” he said. “It’s a very difficult undertaking to open a shelter. It’s more than saying, ‘we have a space, let them sleep there.’ You have to be prepared to feed three meals, to assist them as they prepare to move on. It’s even more difficult for those who are unprocessed because they don’t have permission to move on.”
Seitz declined to identify the churches other than Sacred Heart that are housing migrants, but he called on El Paso residents willing to assist the migrants to approach the diocese. For more information on that, visit www.915migrant.org.