The last of the charter flights bringing in Cubans from Panama into Juarez has now ended. The last two flights arrived Wednesday, ending three weeks of a surge that saw an estimated 3,000 Cubans enter the U.S via El Paso.
While the flights have ended, the emergency response certainly has not and will not for some time. In the early days of the surge, the Cubans we saw in El Paso had the means to further their travels elsewhere within 24-36 hours.
However, the population that has entered El Paso in the last several days often arrives with little to no money. Therefore, we now have a higher percentage of people likely to stay in El Paso at least until they have resources to move on to their final destination.
St. Xavier, St. Ignacio, Holy Family, the Roger Bacon Seminary and Annunciation House continue to provide hospitality to these guests. These are the Catholic-based properties.
The Ysleta Mission of San Pablo Lutheran Church and Houchen Community Center continue their response as well.
Via an emailed release, Diocese officials said, “While welcoming refugees and immigrants to the U.S. is not without controversy, we must remember that some of these Cubans are fleeing persecution and have suffered great loss, including loss of their homes, livelihoods, possessions and oftentimes families. Others are escaping severe poverty and hardship and seeking a better life for their families.”
Officials added, “The Catholic Church in the United States has been helping immigrants and refugees since the founding of this nation. Indeed, it is what the Gospel calls us to do: in Matthew (25:35) Jesus tells his disciples, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
Members of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops Office of Migration and Refugee Services (USCCB/MRS) have been in town to assess the situation and identify ways to help the Cubans and support the local community response.
They secured some federal resources through the Cuban Haitian Entrant Program (CHEP) to provide the shelters some funding to help with their humanitarian efforts. They have also sent staff from USCCB/MRS’s CHEP Program in Miami to help Cubans without family in the United States and without resources to see whether they are eligible for the CHEP Program in one of eight cities across the United States.
The Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services (DMRS) is also able to help some of the Cubans through the refugee program such as those who are settling in El Paso for a longer period of time or permanently.
Diocesan officials say, “While these options for Cubans are certainly great news, the processes take some time. As a result, some of the Cubans will be remaining in El Paso as they go through these processes. This will require some of the temporary shelters to remain open. At this time, it has not been determined which shelters will be able to continue their operations.”
While donations have been generous from the community, several critical needs remain. Many of the shelters are now running low on protein: chicken, beef. Travel-sized soaps, lotions, shampoo and razors are also in demand.
The Diocese of El Paso set up a GoFundMe account to assist the shelters in purchases of these items and other purchases as they see fit. The money can also help offset some of the cost the shelters will incur next month: higher water, gas, and electric bills.
At the conclusion of the news release from the Diocese, church officials reminded residents of Pope Francis’ visit to the Borderland in February and his words regarding mercy to immigrants.
“They are on the front lines, often risking their own lives,” Pope Francis said. “By their very lives they are prophets of mercy. They are the beating heart and accompanying feet of the church that opens its arms and sustains.”