LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) — A network of churches in southern New Mexico is seeking to expand the number of temporary shelters for migrants amid an expected jump in demand.
A Catholic-run project in Las Cruces that offers short-term refugee housing says the rise in Central American migrants headed to the U.S.-Mexico border and a recent change in federal practices in housing asylum-seekers is putting a strain on the current number of shelters, The Las Cruces Sun-News reported .
Project Oak Tree coordinator Leonel Briseno said advocates are seeking to expand the number of churches that could offer temporary housing.
St. Genevieve Catholic Church and Our Lady of Health Catholic Church, both in central Las Cruces, are planning to open shelters, he said. Several Methodist and Lutheran churches also are operating small shelters.
At El Calvario United Methodist Church, The Rev. George Miller greeted a group of migrants who were brought to the church by bus during a recent evening. The group included 23 women, men and children — all from Central America — who would likely stay at least overnight and possibly a couple of days.
"The people we're housing are refugees," he said. "They've come to the border and applied legally. They're fleeing persecution and violence, and they've been released by the federal government to us."
The process of feeding, housing and coordinating cross-country travel for a group of strangers whose home countries are thousands of miles away is fraught with logistical challenges, organizers told the Sun-News . Volunteers have been prepping for hours to receive this once-a-week drop-off of immigrants at the church.
In the nearby kitchen, volunteers had a meal of rice, beans, chicken and corn tortillas ready to go.
Not all refugees from Central America speak Spanish. Volunteers at times encounter indigenous people who know little or no Spanish, but instead speak local native dialects.
The migrants are bound for U.S. cities where their legal sponsor families live; most often this is a relative already living in the United States. Once they get there, they are obligated to appear at a federal immigration court hearing as part of their asylum cases.
By the time the immigrants reach El Calvario Methodist Church and other temporary shelters, these hearing dates have already been set. So arranging transportation out of Las Cruces for these migrants as quickly as possible is key, volunteers said.
Anselmo Delgado, El Calvario church's volunteer coordinator, said he's always on the lookout for people who are extremely withdrawn because some have experienced trauma and poor treatment on their journeys.
Delgado is proud of the effort El Calvario is making to help the migrants. "This has got to be the smallest church with the biggest heart in Las Cruces," he said.
An estimated 35 volunteers each week help run El Calvario's short-term shelter. They work in shifts, and different volunteers have different roles. Some prepare the food, others dole out donated clothing to migrants and others launder bedding once all the migrants have left for the week.
Information from: Las Cruces Sun-News, http://www.lcsun-news.com