Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Migrants warmed by the community as freezing temperatures linger in El Paso

Unsheltered migrants wait for bed space to open for the evening in the gymnasium at Sacred Heart Church after crossing the Rio Grande River into the United States in El Paso, Texas, U.S., December 22, 2022.
Jim Urquhart for NPR
Unsheltered migrants wait for bed space to open for the evening in the gymnasium at Sacred Heart Church after crossing the Rio Grande River into the United States in El Paso, Texas, U.S., December 22, 2022.

EL PASO, Texas – In some ways it feels like it could be any other Christmas in El Paso. Families who live here stroll through the annual holiday display downtown where a 55-foot tree glitters with ornaments and hundreds of thousands of tiny lights are strung everywhere. People snap photos near the life-size nativity scene depicting the baby Jesus in the manger.

As the Christmas story goes, there was no room at the inn for Mary and Joseph. It's what thousands of migrants who've recently crossed the U.S.-Mexico border now face — no place to sleep or stay.

Just a few blocks away from the Christmas festivities, a young mother cradles her 4-month-old baby on the sidewalk outside the bus station.

An unsheltered migrant from Peru holds her daughter as they wait for bed space to open for the evening in the gymnasium at Sacred Heart Church.
/ Jim Urquhart for NPR
/
Jim Urquhart for NPR
An unsheltered migrant from Peru holds her daughter as they wait for bed space to open for the evening in the gymnasium at Sacred Heart Church.

Lisba, who is Venezuelan and whose last name we are not using because she and her family slipped into the country without documents, says she's afraid to seek shelter. "I'm scared because of all we've been through and that they'll send us back," she says in Spanish. Only people who turned themselves into the Border Patrol and now have immigration paperwork can sleep in the thousand cots at the city's convention center. The city says that's a rule of the federal government, which is helping to cover the shelter's costs.

Over the last few days, some churches have opened their doors to all migrants, regardless of their immigration status, bringing them in from the bitter cold. David Carrero, from Venezuela, has been spending nights at Sacred Heart Church with his wife and baby boy.

Unsheltered migrants move mattresses outsides Sacred Heart Church after crossing the Rio Grande River into the United States in El Paso, Texas, U.S., December 22, 2022.
/ Jim Urquhart for NPR
/
Jim Urquhart for NPR
Unsheltered migrants move mattresses outsides Sacred Heart Church after crossing the Rio Grande into the United States in El Paso, Texas, on Thursday.

"They've supported us and given us food, and people have dropped off food, clothes and toys for the children," Carrero says, in Spanish.

Back at the bus station, local residents Adan Amezaga, his wife and two young daughters have given out gallons of coffee and more than a thousand sandwiches to migrants during the last several days.

"For Christmas every year we like to sponsor a family," says Amezaga.

They passed out beanies, scarves and gloves.

While migrants had been hoping for the biggest Christmas gift of all, the lifting of pandemic border restrictions that would allow them to seek asylum in the United States, which did not happen, they are grateful for the kindness of strangers this holiday season.

Volunteers with Border Network for Human Rights hand out blankets and supplies to unsheltered migrants outside Sacred Heart Church.
/ Jim Urquhart for NPR
/
Jim Urquhart for NPR
Volunteers with Border Network for Human Rights hand out blankets and supplies to unsheltered migrants outside Sacred Heart Church.

Copyright 2022 KTEP

Angela Kocherga
Emmy winning multimedia journalist Angela Kocherga is news director with KTEP and Borderzine. She is also multimedia editor with ElPasoMatters.org, an independent news organization.

👋 Looks like you could use more news. Sign up for our newsletters.

* indicates required
New Orleans Public Radio News
New Orleans Public Radio Info