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El Paso struggles with increasing migrants arriving from Mexico

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

El Paso is struggling to shelter thousands of migrants arriving in the Texas border city every day. The mayor says as many as 2,000 people a night need shelter. The number of migrants trying to reach the U.S. is up significantly in recent months all along the southern border. And El Paso is now scrambling to keep people from sleeping on the streets. Angela Kocherga of member station KTEP reports.

ANGELA KOCHERGA, BYLINE: At dusk, as storm clouds build, men, women and children are gathered in San Jacinto Plaza in downtown El Paso. They're a long way from home. The vast majority, like Alexander Vasquez, are from Venezuela.

ALEXANDER VASQUEZ: (Through interpreter) My four little girls and wife and I had to leave.

KOCHERGA: Vasquez says they fled a corrupt, oppressive government and failing economy. Once they reached Mexico, his wife and four daughters - aged 7, 5, 3 and 1 - clung to the rooftops of trains, risking arrest to reach the Mexican border city of Juarez. He says he hopes to eventually make it to Denver.

VASQUEZ: (Through interpreter) My goal is to work and work and to try to get ahead.

KOCHERGA: Until then, Vasquez is relying on the kindness of strangers and his faith.

VASQUEZ: (Through interpreter) We don't have any money. We hope in God.

KOCHERGA: He says thousands of his fellow Venezuelans are hoping for asylum here. They've turned themselves in to Border Patrol agents. Now the city is struggling to find them temporary shelter. El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OSCAR LEESER: The city of El Paso only has so many resources, and we have come to what we look at as a breaking point right now.

KOCHERGA: In the first 10 days of the current migrant spike, the city sheltered 7,000 people released by Border Patrol to await immigration court hearings. Hundreds more arrive daily. Homeless shelters are at capacity, so the city turned a rec center at a park into a temporary shelter with 400 cots. Up to a thousand people a night are in hotel rooms. To pay for it all, El Paso is getting help again from the federal government. The city has seen it all before. Mayor Leeser blames what he calls a broken immigration system.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LEESER: And until it's fixed, you know, we seem to be doing the same thing over and over again. They keep sending us money. We keep trying to find shelter. And we try to make sure people are off the street, make sure our community is safe, make sure they're safe.

KOCHERGA: Back in El Paso, San Jacinto Plaza, 18-year-old Andrianeli Nava and her toddler son sit on the sidewalk. The little boy munches on a donated sandwich. They spent 24 hours camped in line at the border fence waiting to get into the U.S.

ANDRIANELI NAVA: (Through interpreter) They said the border was open. But once we got there, the National Guard grabbed us.

KOCHERGA: Nava says the Texas Guard turned her and her child over to the Border Patrol. They spent nearly a week in custody. Now she's counting her blessings.

NAVA: (Through interpreter) Thank God we are now here.

KOCHERGA: On this recent rainy night, she's headed for a crowded church that's become an emergency shelter for migrant parents with children. She hopes to make it to Chicago, but Nava has no money and is unsure what will happen next.

For NPR News, I'm Angela Kocherga in El Paso.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALICIA KEYS SONG, "UN-THINKABLE (I'M READY)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Angela Kocherga | KTEP EL Paso