The crisis at the southern border hasn’t changed. If anything, it is getting worse. Last week the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency reported that more than 500 people from African countries were arrested in the Border Patrol’s Del Rio Sector in Texas in six days following May 31. Most of them were traveling in large groups trying to cross the Rio Grande River.
Mostly families from the Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Angola, one group was as large as 100 people. When I heard the countries of origin my concern went immediately to the battle with Ebola in that region. There have been more than 2,000 cases reported in the past 10 months – one of the biggest outbreaks of Ebola in history. There is no vaccination against the deadly disease or any reliable treatment for it. Symptoms or signs of the disease don’t appear right away. So, it is important that these migrants be held while they are being monitored for the disease.
With family units being released within days, often within hours, how can our government be certain that Americans, not to mention Border Patrol and local health officials, are not being put in danger? This is why the law (8 U.S.C. § 1222(a)) requires the government to detain all migrants “for a sufficient time to enable the immigration officers and medical officers to subject such aliens to observation and an examination sufficient to determine whether or not they belong to inadmissible classes.” This was for all migrants. It was always presumed that we would never take in people from specific countries that were experiencing deadly epidemics.
Fortunately, CBP confirms there have been no reported cases of Ebola on the border. The incubation period is 21 days and typically it takes the African migrants 6 to 7 months to travel to the U.S. border.
Meanwhile, more than 33,000 people have been apprehended at the Del Rio Sector already this year, which is more than double the number of all apprehensions there last fiscal year.
In a statement, Del Rio Sector Chief Patrol Agent Raul L. Ortiz said “the introduction of this new population places additional burdens on processing stations to include language and cultural differences,” with the official language of both Congos being French and the official language of Angola being Portuguese.
Despite facing continued hurdles, Ortiz said his agents would “continue to meet each new challenge as the ongoing humanitarian crisis evolves.”
My questions, as I have been following the news about this new group of migrants are how are they getting here and why now? While it is not completely clear how they are coming here, a recent NPR interview sheds a little light on their journey to the Texas border.
However, in a recent interview with NPR, some African migrants described traveling from their home countries to Brazil, before making their way north through Colombia and Central America towards the US-Mexico border. Such a journey typically takes several months.
Footage released by CBP shows migrants completing the journey’s final leg of that journey, by wading through the Rio Grande river that separates Mexico from Texas.
They fly to South America before traveling through Central America and Mexico toward the U.S. border.
These families, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo and Angola, have been on the road for a long time. Michele and his family started their journey in January. To get to the U.S., most Central African migrants start with a flight to South or Central America, according to Randy Capps, the director of research for U.S. programs at the Migration Policy Institute.
“Yes they have to fly,” Capps said. “They’re flying to somewhere in Latin America before they journey north, and they have to cross several countries. That’s not an easy journey.”
While the journey isn’t easy, Capps said, it’s preferable to the alternative, which is to make the trip to Europe by boat across the treacherous Mediterranean. In fact, Capps said, many central African asylum seekers don’t even make it to the sea. They’re at refugee camps in North Africa.
Once detained at the Texas border, hundreds have been shuttled by vans to downtown San Antonio near the bus station and a migrant resource center. Some then travel to Portland, Maine which has an established Congolese community. Randy Capps points to the lousy job being done by the political class in Washington, D.C. and that our immigration system is in a mess.
“I think the migrant crisis at the U.S. border has been so well publicized and because of all the chaos over policy making in Washington D.C. it really gives the impression that the U.S. border is open for business right now,” Capps said.
The City of San Antonio is looking for French-speaking volunteers to help out with African migrants. The first group of 350 were detained in Del Rio last week after they traveled from Ecuador to the border. San Antonio leaders say they weren’t given advance notice of the detainees being transferred to their city and weren’t prepared.
But the language barrier is why the city is in desperate need of French-speaking volunteers, to help get many of these individuals to their final destination.
“If you speak primarily French and can come spend 6,7,8 hours, that would be really helpful,” Bridger encouraged.
And, now Portland can’t take any more of the new migrants. Other cities are being looked at for some help.
The city opened up the Frank Garrett Center to house the Congolese migrants for the weekend, but after that, they’re not sure where they’ll house them especially since they don’t know how long some of them will be here.
“The plan was 350 of them would travel from San Antonio to Portland. When we reached out to Portland Maine they said, ‘Please don’t send us any more. We’re already stretched way beyond our capacity,” Bridger said.
“So we’re working with them [the migrants] now to identify other cities throughout the United States where they can go and begin their asylum seeking process.”
There is no end in sight.