OMAHA — A team from Omahans is preparing to offer temporary shelter to a busload of asylum-seeking migrants crossing the Texas border at a pace that has overwhelmed shelters and sent some sleeping in the streets.
Calling it humanitarian action, the local volunteers formed a non-profit organization and dubbed their effort Omaha Welcomes the Stranger.
They respond to a call for help from a faith-based shelter in the border town of El Paso, Texas, where some Omahans have volunteered.
Short term stays expected
At this point, around 50 migrants, including families with children, are expected to arrive in December. Others may follow, depending on the circumstances.
“We think Omaha is a very welcoming community with a giving spirit,” said Margaret Hoarty, who along with her husband Tom helps lead the local effort. “We see this as an important mission and to serve our fellow men, women and children in need.”
Arrangements are underway to secure on-site accommodation, meals and personal items for migrants, primarily from South and Central America, who enter the United States with few belongings after fleeing the instability in their country of origin.
Stays in Omaha are expected to be short-lived, as those who come would be on their way to sponsors and immigration court hearings elsewhere in the country, said Tom Hoarty, a retired Omaha attorney.
Asylum seekers who are processed and released by federal immigration officials at the border have been vetted and have standing in the United States pending court proceedings that will determine whether they will be allowed to remain legally in the country.
With border shelters overcrowded, the Hoartys said the Omahans provide a safe stopover for these migrants to arrange travel and relationships with sponsors elsewhere.
Sudden surge at the border
The effort puts Omaha among cities like New York, Chicago and Denver that have taken in migrants from El Paso, a border town whose local government between late August and mid-October chartered nearly 300 buses to take applicants to asylum in places where they could connect with sponsors.
El Paso has allocated nearly $9 million for transportation, food and shelter to help transition foreign-born people trying to escape oppression or devastation in countries like Venezuela, Haiti, Nicaragua and Cuba.
El Paso’s financial investment has gone so far as to open a welcome center and launch a public dashboard that tracks migrant-related numbers. Its official website offers a video explaining a migrant’s journey from crossing the border to arrest by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and, in many cases, bail into the community pending court hearings of immigration.
The city website says while the region’s ‘migrant crisis’ has been going on since 2018, the sudden surge began in late August, when the number of people apprehended and released by federal authorities in the city and local aid agencies jumped from around 250 per day to over 1,000 on some days in September.
City government officials closed the welcome center and ended city-subsidized bus rides after a mid-October shift in immigration law enforcement by the Biden administration was to reduce border crossings by Venezuelans, the main group behind the recent border surge.
A related federal court ruling on Tuesday, however, bars the government from using Title 42, a controversial pandemic-era health policy exploited by the Trump and Biden administrations to quickly deport asylum seekers at the border. .
Migrants released pending hearings
Hoarty said the decision could create more of a need for groups to provide temporary housing for commuters, but he said it was too early to know.
Meanwhile, a Customs and Border Protection spokesperson said that since early November, the El Paso area that stretches along the southern border from New Mexico to Texas has continued to see a high number of incoming migrants – an average daily “encounter” of 1,650.
In the 10 days since Nov. 4, the sector has released about 750 migrants into the community as a “safe and humane” option to reduce overcrowding in CBP detention facilities, spokesperson Landon said. hutches. They came mainly from countries like Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador and Nicaragua.
These temporary releases, he said, are allowed after the foreigners have been found to pose no security risk. He said steps are being taken to ensure they show up for scheduled hearings.
All of this led to a distress call from the nonprofit Annunciation House shelter to supporters like the Hoartys.
Word of mouth
The couple said their involvement stemmed from volunteering at shelters along the southern border in 2019 and 2021.
“We saw people’s faces, faces you can’t forget,” Margaret Hoarty said.
So far, the Hoartys said, news of Omaha Welcomes the Stranger Inc. has spread rather privately and by word of mouth, among people who know of the House of the Annunciation or who are aligned with his mission.
At least one Church of Omaha social justice group is also seeking donations and help.
Tom Hoarty said he spoke informally with an Omaha City official, but the effort at this point is being held privately.
Asked about future buses, Tom Hoarty said a lot hinged on the first ride.
“If it’s successful, we hope to do it again,” he said.
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