DEL RIO, Texas (Border Report) — Raisa Flores broke down sobbing as spoke on the phone with her son in Dallas to tell him that she and her husband had safely crossed into the United States and Border Patrol agents released them at a migrant respite center in this border town, but her other son did not complete the trip from Venezuela.
“We left him, son. We left him,” Flores, 64, repeated in Spanish on Thursday about her 27-year-old son who she says was still being held by Border Patrol agents in Comstock, Texas. “They have him.”
Her 72-year-old husband, Levi Flores, quickly came to her side and tried to console her, and her son on the phone told her to calm down and to focus on how she would soon be on a flight to Dallas and meet her 4-year-old grandson for the very first time.
But Raisa’s tears wouldn’t stop.
“He cared for us the entire journey. I am diabetic and he took care of me. My husband had cancer and he made sure he was OK. And then we were separated,” she told Border Report before putting her head on her husband’s shoulder.
“I’m so upset I cannot speak,” she said looking off into the distance.
Volunteers at the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition gave the couple from Venezuela sandwiches, bottled water and new clothing and helped them to book a flight from this small border town. But with no overnight shelter available in this small, rural border town across from Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, the Floreses had no choice but to continue on and hope that their son is released to them and not sent back to Mexico.
It’s a situation that plays out daily here as the latest migration influx on the Southwest border continues under this new Biden administration, Title 42 border health restrictions remain and the Department of Homeland Security arbitrarily decides who’s released and who’s allowed to stay.
Before 9 a.m. on Thursday, nine migrants were driven in a small Border Patrol bus and dropped off at the Humanitarian Coalition’s center, which is filled with donated water and food, clothing and items for children.
The center opened in the spring of 2019 as an influx of mostly Haitians and Africans suddenly began coming from the northern Mexican state of Coahuila into the small border town of Del Rio. Border Patrol was releasing them at the Stripes gas station, which doubles as the Greyhound Bus stop, and they were seen in town disheveled and lost.
That’s what prompted a coalition of church leaders to start the facility. But shortly after opening, then President Donald Trump implemented the Migrant Protection Protocols program known as “Remain in Mexico,” which forced asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico during their U.S. immigration hearings. And the center experienced a sudden drop in migrants needing help.
But after President Joe Biden took office, new asylum-seekers have swarmed the borderlands, and this facility now helps anywhere from a dozen to 150 migrants each day, said Tiffany Burrow, the center’s director of operations, as she gave Border Report a tour of the facility on Thursday.
The facility has showers, bathrooms, food and toiletries and overflow tents for the days when it gets really crowded, she said.
In addition to the Floreses, there was one other retiree, a Cuban couple and a couple from Haiti on Thursday morning. Three of the women were pregnant and there were no children in the group, something that surprised Burrow.
She says the center not only helps keep migrants safe but also the 39,000 residents of this rural ranching community because all migrants are tested for coronavirus as soon as they are released by Border Patrol. Once their travel arrangements are made, they’re almost immediately on their way out of town.
“We work directly with Border Patrol and once families are here they contact their loved ones and let them know they are safe and then secure their funding to their final destination,” Burrow said. It’s “a service to my community and a way to give families a safe, protected place to plan their travels and continue on.”
As they sat in metal chairs after arriving at the facility on Thursday, Burrow explained to the migrants how they needed to focus and what they needed to accomplish: Reaching out to family members in the United States to inform them that they are OK, and securing travel plans to their destination locations.
There is only one flight a day — to Dallas — out of Del Rio; and there is only one Greyhound bus to San Antonio that costs $30 per person.
“There are very limited options in Del Rio. It’s a super super small town,” Burrow told them in English. While Gail Phares, an 81-year-old former Catholic nun from North Carolina who worked for half a dozen years in Guatemala and Nicaragua, translated in Spanish.
Facilities at the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition in Del Rio, Texas, include free showers, phones, computers and travel arrangements, as seen on May 27, 2021. (Border Report Photos/Sandra Sanchez)
Within an hour after her emotional breakdown, Raisa Flores was seated at a computer working with another volunteer to make flight arrangements to Dallas.
“They always cry when they speak with family. There is so much they have been through,” Phares said as she rubbed Raisa’s back and tried to get her to eat some food.
The center exists entirely on donations and through the support of local churches. And it relies on volunteers locally, and from across the United States, who come to help the migrants. The migrants are responsible for their own travel costs, and if they don’t make the bus or plane, they must pay for a local hotel, Burrow said.
Phares came to volunteer for a month and goes back to North Carolina on June 2.
She helped found the nonprofit Witness for Peace solidarity network to help Latin American countries. Having lived there, she says she understands the economic and political turmoil in these countries that drive migrants north to try and cross the border into Texas.
“I’ve been deeply, deeply inspired by the people of Del Rio and what they’re doing here. I think many people in the United States know about the border, are worried about the border,” she said. “I was so grateful to find this place.”
“We need to change our immigration policies toward Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala,” Phares said. “There’s a lot of work to do and we need to do it through the private sector.”
Change could be coming soon for the many Haitians who cross in this region. Because starting Friday, Homeland Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas will grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitian asylum-seekers living in the country.
What that means for new arrivals, is not yet known, however,
Gerry Jumeson, a 34-year-old painter from Haiti, said he was encouraged by Mayorkas actions and grateful he and his wife were released Thursday morning after spending four days in Border Patrol custody. She is eight months pregnant. It took the pair seven months to travel from Haiti where he says there are no jobs and “politics are unstable.”
They were flying to Orlando, Fla., where his wife’s cousin lives.
“People in the United States think that people just want to flock to the United States for some great lifestyle and the truth is they’re coming out of desperation,” Linda Burton, 75, of Raleigh, N.C., said on her first day volunteering Thursday at the center.
“Some of them are in severe danger. Some of them have no way to feed their children. And when they get off that bus and we great them they just break down in tears of joy,” Burton said. “And that’s what we want to do: Help.”