Laredo Church authorities waiting for influx of immigrants
Unaccompanied minors seeking asylum are seen in a U.S. Border Patrol vehicle March 9, 2021, after they crossed the Rio Grande River into Penitas, Texas. (Credit: Adrees Latif/Reuters via CNS)
NEW YORK — From conversations with federal government officials at the border, Bishop James Tamayo of Laredo estimates that there are at least 800 families — thousands of people — waiting on the Mexico side of the Laredo border for entry into the United States.
Tamayo said the diocese will continue to prepare for their arrival in anticipation of their release. He’s concerned, however, that because of the COVID-19 pandemic they don’t have the same number of volunteers they’ve gotten in years past.
“We’re grateful that the federal government does it right. That they are processing so that family units don’t get separated. That they can get back to family. That they can get back to an environment and lodging that is more secure and respectful and protective of their bodily emotional, physical and spiritual needs,” he told Crux.
“Now, unfortunately, as we’ve reached out to volunteers and to our organizations in the church they’ve said, ‘we’re a little hesitant. I don’t know if I can do it this time.’ So, I’m depending on a staff of seven people and you can’t get too far when you put seven with a thousand immigrants.”
Tamayo said preparations include a refugee center they call La Frontera. Rebecca Solloa, the executive director of Catholic Charities of Laredo, previously told Crux that they’re prepared to help up to 100 migrants a day with primarily an outdoor setup and COVID-19 precautions.
In an email to Crux Thursday, Solloa said she’s meeting with a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent on Monday, March 15, to go over the logistics of releasing Migrant Protection Protocols asylum seekers. She said the agent indicated there’s no date set for their release.
The MPP entrants aside, Solloa told Crux they have received families that crossed the Rio Grande River, were arrested by border patrol and subsequently released.
These types of encounters between migrants and border patrol agents have increased at the southwest border of late, leading to nationwide concerns about the system getting overwhelmed and the spread of COVID-19.
An approximate two-hour drive from Laredo, Tamayo remembers visiting the Carrizo Springs facility when it was open three years ago. While there, he said he offered the children visitation and prayer, to which they were “very respectful, very collaborative and very open.”
He said he intends to visit the facility as soon as the COVID-19 restrictions allow. He also notes it’s important that the unaccompanied children stay at a place like the Carrizo Springs facility, as opposed to an adult facility, for their safety.
“I don’t want the children in an adult facility with more strangers that they do not know. That’s more trauma to them,” Tamayo told Crux. “So, at least they’re in an environment where the kids are the same age, they develop friendships, interests, but it’s still ‘when do I get home.’”
As children, adults and families continue their journeys beyond Texas to other parts of the country, Tamayo encourages communities across the country to welcome them.
“It saddens me that many times I’m reading in the press or I’m hearing somebody further away from Texas in other parts of the United States say something about these people, the border, immigrants, that they don’t really know,” Tamayo said.
“It would be wonderful if when they get there, those churches, those parishes, those Catholic charities, those nonprofits and those neighbors would welcome them and see and listen to the stories and share their own stories,” the bishop said.