Diaspora

Brownsville shelter sees rise in Haitian families as Venezuelan migrants decline – Brownsville Herald

Caseworker Aimee Rico sits in an office surrounded by two months worth of intake paperwork from migrants who have entered the facility Thursday, November 3, 2022, at the Ozanam Center in Brownsville.(Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)
BY VALERIE GONZALEZ AND DENISE CATHEY
STAFF WRITER
BROWNSVILLE — Migrants, mostly Haitian families, waiting to cross into the U.S. are finding some relief from a stringent border policy through the port of Brownsville, but their welcome comes with an added toll for those helping them along their journey.
Smiles colored the faces of families arriving and leaving the Ozanam Center in Brownsville on Thursday. Some just learned they’ll have a few days to rest before making their way to their final destination. Others, including two little girls, said goodbye as one of them left with her family and boarded a van taking them to an airport or bus station.
Inside the shelter’s administrative buildings, staff, too, were in perpetual movement.
Two rooms were filled with shelves that housed accordion files with shelter intake forms for migrant families. They helped illustrate how busy employees were in the last few months.
“Just in the month of October, which is last month, we received 2,050,” shelter director Victor Maldonado said. “Just last week, we served 436 folks.”
A TV monitor next to his desk showed different views of the shelter space, which can be stretched to house up to 230 people at once. They haven’t had to expand to that point, yet.
But thousands keep showing up every month; though, they quickly move on. Before October, many of those who arrived at Ozanam were single adults from Venezuela, like Wilmer Nava, 44, and Jose Naveda, 37.
Just three days before the U.S. policy on Venezuelans entering the country changed, Nava and Naveda crossed into the U.S. through El Paso on Oct. 9 and turned themselves in to border officers.
For days, the two men, who met during their sojourn from Venezuela, were held in federal custody and moved through a series of holding spaces until finally arriving in Brownsville on Oct. 13. They were among the first groups of Venezuelans turned over to Mexico under the new rules announced Oct. 12.
Up until then, Venezuelans were excluded from Title 42, the standing policy applied to most migrants who cross into the U.S. seeking asylum. Since the start of the pandemic, most migrants have been turned back to Mexico under that public health policy aimed at protecting the country from a spreading disease.
Nava and Naveda spent a few days in Matamoros while U.S. officials reviewed their paperwork and found that the new policy was applied too early to the men who arrived before it officially began. After a few days, both were released into the U.S. and allowed to proceed with their asylum claims.
“It was such a huge relief,” Naveda said. “We didn’t know what was going to become of us — whether we’d have to go back to our country, because we’d lost all of our money by then.”
Although the U.S. is technically no longer in a pandemic phase, Title 42 is still in place, with some exemptions for certain qualifying migrants.
Currently, migrants eligible under those exemptions are processed through the Brownsville port of entry.
After the U.S. started turning back the majority of Venezuelans to curtail the record-number of arrivals, Maldonado noticed a different group began arriving at the shelter.
“I think in the last month we’ve seen about, I’m gonna say, about 85% of the folks that were served were Haitians,” Maldonado said. “We’ve been very busy and understaffed.”
Two more people were hired and Maldonado plans to soon fill a position recently left vacant.
The center, which includes other programs for local residents, is kept afloat through grants and donations.
Some days are longer than others, though.
Myrna Miriam Arteaga, the shelter manager, sometimes processes intake forms until 2 a.m.
Arteaga keeps track of the new temporary residents, like Occide Nicolas, a 31-year-old father, traveling with his 2-year-old daughter and 28-year-old wife.
His family arrived in Reynosa, Mexico first, but after noticing the hundreds of other families waiting for over a year, they left for Matamoros where smaller crowds are beginning to take shelter in the border city.
“I came here to work and look for better opportunities,” Nicolas said, looking over to his family.
Nicolas dressed in black shorts and a tank shirt adequate for the warm Thursday afternoon. But that attire won’t be suitable when he heads to Indiana. The shelter struggles to keep enough clothing in stock, especially for men.
“The cold weather is going to start coming in, and we don’t have much heavy clothes for them and where they’re going, which is up north. It’s gonna get even colder,” Maldonado said.
Donations like shoe laces, pants, belts, shoes, jackets and other lightly-worn clothing are needed at the shelter. The public can drop them off at the shelter located at 656 N. Minnesota Ave. in Brownsville from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
For now, Maldonado is looking forward to expanding the shelter’s capacity, even though progress was affected by pandemic-related inflation and supply chain delays.

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