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On anniversary of immigrant surge, head of El Paso’s Annunciation House looks back on whirlwind year

EL PASO, Texas -- It was one year ago this month the immigration surge was in the early stages.

Immigration enforcement agents had been working hand in hand with Annunciation House in El Paso to find shelter for immigrants waiting on their asylum claim.

But on Christmas 2018, agents mistakenly dropped off a large group of immigrants, leaving them to fend for themselves in the cold. Since then, Ruben Garcia with Annunciation House said the surge has decreased.

"It has slowed down considerably in comparison to what it was the first several months of 2019 and the end of 2018," said Garcia.

The Central American immigration surge started in late 2018, with dozens of immigrants at first, then hundreds more. The highest one day number of immigrants was 1,050 released to Annunciation House at once - overwhelming volunteers, and immigration enforcement agents in December of last year.

"For Annunciation House, it was very challenging because it put us in a posture where we had to activate a whole new hotel. Well, the city fortunately was willing to have Sun Metro use their buses to transport them to the hotels that we activated to receive them," Garcia said.

That surge triggered a national conversation about the state of immigration laws. Meanwhile, Annunciation House reached out to many churches to host the large number of immigrants. Donations went to booking rooms at five hotels throughout the city. But that was not the biggest challenge Annunciation House and its network of hospitality partners faced.

"One of our greatest challenges in responding to this kind of a flow was our ability to transport refugees to the airports and to the bus stations after travel arrangements were made," explained Garcia.

ABC-7 asked Garcia if the lowest point during the year of the immigrant surge was when an immigrant man was accused of assaulting an immigrant woman. Not so, said Garcia.

"I'll tell you what to me personally the low point was; it was August the third. And that was the low point because we had an incident, we had an event where someone from out of town came into our community and specifically targeted people who were different, Mexicans and Hispanics. And to me that very much meant the refugee, the immigrant," Garcia responded.

Before that shooting rampage, Garcia held frequent press briefings, updating news organizations about the latest number of immigrants and their plight. But that communication was suddenly cut off.

"I cannot help but ask myself, had this individual been aware that there were hospitality houses for refugees, might he have gone there, instead of Walmart," said Garcia.

The number and make up of immigrants coming to our borders has changed once again. The Trump administration's ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy forced Central American immigrants to return to Mexico before they could gain asylum in the U.S.  So currently, Annunciation House is tasked with helping immigrants in Juarez before they go before an immigration judge in El Paso.

“What we're hoping to do is to begin to open up houses where we can invite families to make use of one of the bedrooms, put the kids in either daycare, or in schools, so that (mom) can then begin to look for work so that she's able to support herself as she waits for the various appointments with immigration."

Garcia said the groups of immigrants they are helping these days include Mexican nationals, as well as Central Americans, Cubans and Brazilians.

El Paso / News / Top Stories / Video

Jim Parker

Jim Parker is the Director of Digital Content for ABC-7.



  1. This traitor should apologize for aiding and abetting this invasion of the USA.

    These “refugees” need to be rejected, ejected and dispatched back to Banana Land.

    Take Alberto with you!

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