LAS CRUCES – More than a dozen mothers and children stepped off a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement bus outside a Catholic church on Thursday, where volunteers waited to greet them.
They were the first of some 70 Central American immigrants expected to arrive by today at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Cathedral, which has joined other local religious organizations in providing shelter to a wave of families fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries.
While some communities have reacted harshly to the thousands of immigrants showing up at the southern border in Texas – and being transferred to detention centers or temporary shelters from California to New Mexico – numerous volunteers in Las Cruces prepared to welcome them.
“I’m really moved that these ladies and children are coming to this country for help,” said Deacon Ed Misquez, as he straightened green emergency-issue cots at the church hall before the immigrants’ arrival. “How can anybody be so heartless as to not let them in?”
Immigrants from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador have been rushing over the U.S. border and turning themselves in to U.S. immigration authorities in hopes of receiving asylum or other protection. Rising violence and poverty have driven many to flee their homes, including women and children.
Church leaders say U.S. immigration authorities have flown some 1,200 immigrants to El Paso from south Texas, where the flows are largest. Religious groups led by the Catholic Church have provided shelter in El Paso, and now in Las Cruces, for families who are free to go while they await immigration hearings to review their cases.
Unaccompanied minors are not being delivered to the Las Cruces shelter.
Most families will only stay for a day or two, said Deacon David McNeill, before leaving to meet their families scattered across the U.S. More than 100 people have volunteered to cook, clean and coordinate their stay, he said.
In other cases, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is sending families to a detention center in Artesia for expedited removal proceedings. An ICE official said the agency makes determinations “as to whether or not someone is a priority for detention,” but “everyone is placed in removal proceedings.”
Protests against the immigrants’ arrival have sprouted in Artesia but in Las Cruces, a bilingual sign taped to a church table summed up the local reaction: “Welcome – Bienvenidos.”