Despite political feuds, nonprofits brace for Title 42 end

A woman puts her arm around another woman on a cot

Pastor Eunice Moya comforts a mother at a migrant shelter McAllen, Texas. Courtesy of Border Perspective.

(NewsNation) — An estimated 2,000 people have set up a makeshift encampment in Matamoros, Mexico, waiting for something to change. In El Paso, volunteers race to find shoes and clothes for migrants waiting in the cold winter weather hitting the border.

“These are honest, hardworking people that have suffered tremendously and just want a chance at a life for themselves and for their children,” said Andrea Rudnik, co-founder of Team Brownsville, an organization that provides basic supplies to immigrants on both sides of the border.

Set to end this week, a last-minute Supreme Court decision has once again thrown into question how long Title 42 will be in effect — a public health policy that allows Customs and Border Patrol agents to turn migrants away for public health reasons. 

Nineteen Republican-led states asked a judge to retain the policy, as border cities and states argue their infrastructure is already overwhelmed.

But away from the politics, volunteer groups and community organizations continue to pick up the pieces despite political feuds and a broken federal asylum system.

“We’re already getting up to 600 people a day. So really, we’re already being pushed to our limit of what we can provide,” Rudnik said. “The need keeps bringing us back and just the thought of … there’s nobody to take our place if we leave.”

The makeshift way asylum seekers are processed at the border has led to a number of grassroots nonprofits popping up in recent years. They provide clothes, food and diapers, and help immigrants access legal services and find transportation to family or friends in other parts of the U.S.

But they also bear the brunt of the impact of changing laws, the pandemic and unrest in many Central and South American countries, workers and immigration experts say. 

“When you’re on the ground, you realize that our government is not the one necessarily caring for these individuals,” said Yonathan Moya, executive director of Border Perspective, a group that brings volunteers to work with and learn about the needs of immigrants along the South Texas border.

“None of us have asked for the situation, but yet, we are called to respond because it is in our backyard,” he continued. “Migration in a political lens has all of this has legality and policy tied to it. But yet, those who continue to address the local humanitarian needs are local individuals.”

Although estimates differ on the exact number, it is believed millions have been turned away or deported in the past two years. Meanwhile, conditions have become increasingly dangerous and inhumane on the Mexican side of the border and illegal crossings to the U.S. have increased.

The solution is much bigger than Title 42, said Alan Lizarraga, of the Border Network for Human Rights in El Paso.

The federal government needs to increase the investment in a humane immigration infrastructure, he said, including more judges to process refugee and asylum claims, and federally-funded welcome centers that provide legal and housing assistance.

Essentially, doing the work many volunteers are doing as best they can.

“The inactions of the Democrats and also the inaction of the Republicans have led us to this very critical place that we’re in,” he said. “We really need our Congress and the federal government to start stepping up.”

While the nation debates policy, it has begun freezing overnight in Texas. A bitter cold is expected to move across the country this week — a climate many immigrants may not be prepared to face as they travel to meet family or friends in cities around the country.

“We would need pallets of shoes and jackets and sweatshirts every day to actually meet the needs,” Rudnik said, describing her work these days as triage. “Our work and, and the work of many of the organizations like us on the border, continues on whether Title 42 lifts, or (not).”

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