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El Paso social services respond to Cuban migrant surge

El Paso social services respond to Cuban migrant surge

El Paso has eclipsed San Diego as the third most popular entry point for
Cuban migrants, following Laredo and Miami
BY BORDERZINE SPECIAL REPORTS
borderzine.com

EL PASO, TX
Cuban refugees continue to seek asylum in the U.S., traveling from
Juarez, Mexico to El Paso, with many staying in the Texas border city
longer than expected, straining local organizations that traditionally
provide services such as food, shelter and legal advice to immigrants.

Elizabeth O’Hara, communications director of Catholic Diocese of El
Paso, said about 300 Cuban migrants have been arriving each day since
May 9 for a total of about 3,000 in the last few weeks.

“Some of them will stay 24-36 hours, but now we’re seeing some of them
staying longer,” O’Hara said, adding that the first wave of refugees
seemed to be better off financially. “Most of the first ones to arrive
had money left so they could bounce out of El Paso faster.”

That seems to be the case as well at the Ysleta Lutheran Mission, which
is housing up to 80 refugees at a time. Karla Gonzalez, Ysleta’s chief
operating officer, said most immigrants will just pass through El Paso
on the way to family or friends in other parts of the country. For some
though, coming up with enough money for a bus ticket is daunting.

“We have people here for four days now just waiting for $60. Without
that, they can’t leave,” Gonzalez says.

More than 1,300 Cuban migrants arrived in the U.S. via El Paso in the
first quarter of this year according to Roger Maier of U.S. Customs and
Border Protection (CBP). That’s up nearly tenfold from the same period
last year. El Paso has also eclipsed San Diego as the third most popular
entry point for Cuban refugees, following Laredo and Miami.

Although most refugees cited economic hardship and a lack of freedom in
Cuba as the reason for coming to El Paso, there is speculation that the
1966 Cuban Adjustment Act may be suspended or terminated now that
relations between Cuba and the United States are improving, even though
the CBP said the Obama administration said it has no plans to change the
current immigration policy toward Cuba. The Cuban Adjustment Act gives
Cuban refugees preferential status that includes a Green card one year
plus one day after they arrive in the United States.

The CBP has borrowed staff from other locations to help process this
spike in Cuban refugees crossing the border at El Paso, but local
churches and service organizations have been relying on the community to
meet the increased demands for basic services.

One El Paso resident, Brenda Saenz, is hosting Jeorgina Fernandez and
and her baby, Pedro, in her home. She met them at the Houchen Center and
invited them to stay with her as long as they need.

“I’m not charging any rent. I am not charging anything,” Saenz said.
“They are a blessing in my home, and I want to make them part of my family.”

O’Hara said the El Paso community had only two days notice before the
first plane of migrants arrived from Panama and that the community
pulled together to make sure no one would be turned away.

“El Pasoans are a very generous and giving community. Many can relate to
the refugees,” O’Hara said.

She added that shelters still need monetary donations and pantry items
like rice, beans, pasta and bread and personal hygiene items, but no
more clothing. “The shelters simply don’t have the room,” O’Hara said.

Migrants strategize next steps

Cuban migrants are a diverse population; they are arriving in families,
groups and alone, but all say they want to work.

“I’m planning on staying in El Paso. We cannot work until we have the
work permit,” Arieskis Reyes Perez said in Spanish outside the Diocesan
Migrant and Refugee Services in El Paso. “Once we have the permit, we
can start working.”

Perez, who arrived in Juarez on May 17, said he is eager to see if he
can make a life in El Paso.

“I have only been here six days but until now what I’ve seen is good
treatment. People from here are humanitarian,” Perez said.

Like Perez and many other Cuban refugees, Catalina Santana said she
endured a long and difficult journey through Panama and Colombia. At one
point, she doubted whether she would make it to the U.S.

“I’m telling you it was a very traumatic and long trip,” Santana said in
Spanish. “We came here from Guyana. We gathered in rafts, and I don’t
know how to swim.”

Santana said she left Cuba on March 22 and traveled exactly two months
before arriving at the U.S./Mexico border. She is now staying at the
Ysleta Lutheran Mission, which is temporarily offering her food and shelter.

According to documentation provided by the U.S. Customs and Border
Protection, a Cuban citizen who arrives at a port of entry is asked to
provide proof of their Cuban citizenship such as a Cuban passport or
birth certificate. Once citizenship is established, CBP officers ask if
they are a member of the Cuban regime or work for the Cuban government,
and several other questions.

Those who have no disqualifying factors, are processed for parole. CBP
officers issue the refugees an I-94 parole document with the migrant’s
temporary alien number, which is valid for two years.

One year following their admission to the U.S., the Cuban national may
apply to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for an adjustment of
status under the Cuban Refugee Adjustment Act (CRAA), which then allows
them to submit an application for permanent U.S. residency, according to
the CBP statement.

The process takes an hour, according to a statement provided by CBP, but
several refugees interviewed after crossing the Sante Fe International
Bridge said the process can take up to 8-10 hours because of the number
of refugees who need to be processed.

Waiting patiently outside the Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services,
Reyes Perez said he hoped he would have his work permit in a matter of
days so that he could begin his life in the United States.

Source: El Paso social services respond to Cuban migrant surge | In Cuba
Today – www.incubatoday.com/news/article80936587.html

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