Humanitarian Respite Center at capacity, asks Border Patrol not to drop off any more migrants

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Center overcrowding complicated by rising numbers of COVID cases in RGV

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The Rio Grande Valley’s largest migrant shelter has asked the U.S. Border Patrol to stop dropping any more new arrivals, Border Report has learned.

Officials at the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas, have reached out to Border Patrol to request a reprieve because it is currently over capacity due to a massive influx of migrants crossing into South Texas from Mexico.

“We told Border Patrol to hold drop-offs to give us a chance to have space,” Sister Norma Pimentel, the executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, which runs the center, told Border Report on Monday.

Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, which runs the Humanitarian Respite Center in downtown McAllen, Texas, watches on June 24, 2021, as migrants are walked across the street to the city’s bus station. The migrants have legally been released by the Department of Homeland Security and allowed to travel to other cities but first are tested for COVID by the NGO. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

Nevertheless, she said Border Patrol agents were continuing to drop off migrants well into the evening even as space for them has run out at the center, which offers food, clothes, goods and shelter to migrants.

“They continue to drop off,” she said.

A migrant family outside the Respite Center told Border Report that officials inside announced that they couldn’t accept any more people because of overcrowding.

The announcement came as Hidalgo County reported some of its highest numbers of COVID-19 cases on Monday, some of which were migrants, County Judge Richard Cortez told Border Report.

On Monday evening, Border Report saw a charter bus, numerous taxi cabs and two ambulances come to the Respite Center and take migrants away from the facility. There also were numerous volunteers who walked groups of migrants to the bus station across the street.

A security guard posted at the door prevented migrant families from entering the front door, although it appeared that some were directed to a side entrance where volunteers met with them.

One ambulance EMT told Border Report that a child they were called to check on was suspicious for COVID-19. He and his family emerged from a testing facility across the street from the Respite Center and the boy boarded the ambulance.

Two different ambulances within 15 minutes carry out sick migrants in downtown McAllen, Texas, on Monday, July 26, 2021. Left: A boy enters an ambulance after leaving a testing facility. Right: A family boards an ambulance after exiting the Humanitarian Respite Center. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report Photos)

The downtown facility located across from the city’s bus station is designed to hold up to 1,200 people, but Pimentel also has a large contingency of staff and volunteers at the center. Because of COVID-19 safety protocols, the actual number of migrants they can safely admit is limited, she has previously said.

Border Report has reached out to Border Patrol officials to ask if they are changing drop-off plans due to overcrowding at Pimentel’s facility. The agency typically drops off over 1,000 migrants to the nonprofit center daily, and there are several other overflow sites where migrants are sent in the area, such as a Catholic church in the nearby town of Mission, Texas. This story will be updated if the agency responds.

The overcrowding occurred just as Hidalgo County on Monday announced 671 new coronavirus cases and two deaths — the most increase in daily numbers in several months.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many challenges across the country. The border communities face particular challenges because of the influx of migrants arriving every single day. The DHS Secretary must prioritize the health and safety of border age,” U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, vice chairman of the House Homeland Security Appropriations Committee said in a statement Monday.

ABOVE LEFT: A migrant family is seen leaving the Humanitarian Respite Center in downtown McAllen, Texas, on July 26, 2021. RIGHT: A migrant family waits on benches outside the center, run by Catholic Charities of the RGV, for transportation with their DHS-issued paperwork inside the manila envelope. They were to catch a flight to Dallas. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report Photos)

Cuellar said that the sudden increase in COVID-19 cases in Hidalgo County has resulted in almost 70 agents in the Border Patrol’s RGV Sector testing positive for coronavirus.

He said that 27% of unaccompanied migrant children who were deported this week also tested positive for coronavirus, with the South Texas city of Brownsville experiencing a 15% positivity rate.

DHS and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that as of Sunday, 355 unaccompanied migrant children were placed in U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody. This brings the total of children in CBP custody to 1,884 and HHS care to 13,663. This does not include children from Mexico who are sent back to their country.

“Throughout the pandemic, we have supported and thanked our essential workers for their sacrifices. However, our Border Patrol agents have been thanklessly serving our southern border and processing immigrants, despite the dangers from the virus. While we are extremely fortunate for the vaccine that has saved many lives, we must prioritize the health and wellbeing of our men and women in blue and border communities,” Cuellar said.

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