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In El Paso, A New Migrant Shelter Is Opened For Families Released By Border Officials


El Paso, Texas, continues to be one of the areas most affected by the growing influx of migrants from Central America. In March alone, over 20,000 were apprehended near there. The burden of caring for many of these migrants once they are released into the U.S. falls on voluntary shelters.

Monica Ortiz Uribe joins us from El Paso where the main volunteer group, Annunciation House, offered reporters a tour of their newest and biggest shelter today. And Monica, you've actually been into this shelter. What did you see there?

MONICA ORTIZ URIBE, BYLINE: Well, it looks like a work in progress. The new shelter is a 125,000-square-foot warehouse in an industrial area of El Paso. It's only been operational for 10 days, and it's called Casa del Refugiado, or House of the Refugee. Walking around it today, I saw a lot of empty rooms and bare white walls that are slowly getting covered with colorful murals by local artists. There's tables and folding chairs set up for meals and registration areas. And a vast, high-ceilinged room which might have once taken truck deliveries is now a giant open bedroom with 500 cots.

CORNISH: We said this is a volunteer group. Can you tell us more about the organization that's running the shelter, how they're making it all work?

ORTIZ URIBE: Yeah. They're a local nonprofit shelter network that runs entirely off private donations. The migrants arrive here after they're processed by federal authorities. Lately daily migrant drop-offs have been up to a thousand people a day. That's a record high. So Annunciation House is constantly having to find more and more space. Here's their director, Ruben Garcia.

RUBEN GARCIA: No one ends up on the street. Everybody is provided with a place to sleep. They're treated with dignity. They're recognized as human beings.

ORTIZ URIBE: Garcia said they opened up this new shelter to save some money. In the last few months when their shelters were over capacity, Garcia paid to put migrants up in some 200 hotel rooms on a nightly basis. And as you could imagine, that gets unsustainably expensive. So with this new shelter, they hope to house up to 1,500 people, by far their largest shelter.

CORNISH: How are they staffing this new shelter?

ORTIZ URIBE: Well, Annunciation House is constantly looking for more volunteers. Many are in local El Pasoans. Others come from out of town. I spoke with one of those out-of-town volunteers. Her name is Terre Deegan Young, and she's from Golden, Colo.

TERRE DEEGAN YOUNG: And I think there's a misconception that we're giving out tickets to Disneyland. And basically what we're doing is just trying to give them some comfort until they get to wherever their family or their sponsors are.

ORTIZ URIBE: So Terre says her job changes constantly. One day she describes handing a Bugs Bunny toothbrush to a migrant boy and being moved by the smile it brought to his face. She doesn't speak Spanish but said this experience has taught her that kindness is a universal language.

CORNISH: That's Reporter Monica Ortiz Uribe in El Paso. Thank you for your reporting.

ORTIZ URIBE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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