Border city applies lessons learned from last migrant wave to new assistance center

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Families will no longer have to wait in crowded hallways; facility also has room for visiting El Paso lawyers, Mexican government representatives

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Juarez, Mexico officials are applying lessons learned during the last migrant wave in order to be prepared for the next one.

That includes gathering all the service providers in a single space and avoiding keeping families with small children in waiting rooms where people come in and out all day.

They’re preparing to relaunch a newly remodeled Migrant Assistance Center on the Mexican side of the Paso del Norte International Bridge.

“In this building we’ll be able to serve not only migrants, but visiting lawyers and social workers, as well as representatives from labor, education and immigration agencies,” said Enrique Valenzuela, head of the Chihuahua Population Council that runs the center.

The facility in 2019 and part of 2020 was the gathering place for thousands of Cubans, Central Americans and other international citizens waiting in line to apply for asylum in the United States. The center kept a list of petitioners and coordinated with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to let small, hand-picked groups walk over to the American side.

Valenzuela recalls meeting up to 300 migrants a day in the old facility – a converted former tax collection office. “We had up to 50 people come in at a time, leave and another 50 would come in. We needed a more adequate building,” he said.

The crowds at the center thinned since Mexico cracked down on migrant caravans in mid-2019 and have been almost non-existent since the COVID-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, foreign policy analysts and some Trump administration officials say a new increase in migration from the Northern Triangle is likely due to recent natural disasters and political factors.

“We want to be prepared in anticipation of any future challenges. We don’t know with certainty what is going to happen, but we want to have the space and the institutional resources to provide attention to migrants and the various social groups and government agencies that provide services to them,” Valenzuela said.

Juarez’s remodeled Migrant Assistance Center next to the Paso del Norte International Bridge. (State of Chihuahua)

The families with small children who used to huddle on the floor will now be processed at a migrant shelter; visiting lawyers and paralegals from the United States can access offices with more privacy. The remodeled facility has a small kitchen and dining room. Also, employment and education counselors and a few Mexican immigration officers will have a presence there, Valenzuela said.

“It’s a much more functional space and we are going to be next door to a new health clinic,” he added.

The Migrant Assistance Center is scheduled to open in the next few weeks.

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