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Temporary emergency shelter being built in McAllen to house 'overwhelming number of immigrants stranded'

City leaders also instructed their staff to “demand relief from the federal government" because of the "alarming number of immigrants that are being released."

MCALLEN, Texas — The City of McAllen said Wednesday it has to put up a temporary emergency shelter for the “overwhelming number of immigrants stranded in McAllen by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.”

Officials in McAllen are giving an update on the relocation of the emergency housing Thursday afternoon:

Two white tents could be seen from the road on 23rd Street in the city.

The City Commission also instructed City staff to “demand relief from the federal government for the alarming number of immigrants that are being released into the City of McAllen,” according to the City press release received by KENS 5.

It was not immediately clear what relief the city can demand. KENS 5 requested an interview with the Mayor ahead of this announcement Wednesday.

Historically, Catholic Charities in downtown McAllen have been housing migrants released from Border Patrol custody.  Recently, Sister Norma Pimentel, who runs the shelter, told KENS 5 the shelter reached capacity on July 26, but has been “holding steady” since.

The Respite Center run by Catholic Charities provides migrants food, shelter, showers and basic needs before they move on to other parts of the country.

KENS 5 has reported that Catholic Charities had been working with city leaders to find a larger property that could hold more than the 1,200 people it can currently house.

Catholic Charities told KENS 5 that it works with at least two other non-profit organizations to help house several hundred additional migrants.

Credit: KENS 5

According to the press release provided by the city, at the beginning of July, the Respite Center saw an average of 750 people per day. Over the course of the month, that number has grown to more than 1,100 people per day.  So far in August, it’s more than 1,900 people per day.

According to the city’s press release, so far in 2021, 87,000 immigrants passed through the city:

“For context, in 2020 the total number of Title 42 Expulsions on the Southwest Border was 381,928. To date in 2021, in less time, a total of 566,959 Title 42 Expulsions have occurred on the Southwest Border.”

“For nearly seven years, the Respite Center had the capacity to process the flow of immigrants released into McAllen, keeping them off the streets,” the city of McAllen wrote in a press release. “However, in the last several weeks, due to the shockingly large number of immigrants released by CBP, the Respite Center’s capacity became overwhelmed, and threatened its ability to provide its humanitarian services to all in need. This significant change increases the threat of COVID spread or other lawlessness within the city.”

According to the City of McAllen Emergency Management Report dated July 16, and presented to the City Commission, the U.S. Border Patrol releases migrants directly to the American Medical Response (AMR) that operates across the street from Catholic Charities, to get tested for COVID-19.

Once the results come in, Catholic Charities takes those who tested negative to their shelter. The others are isolated off-site.

According to the report, from July 8-14, approximately 5,398 people were tested for COVID-19 and 427 of them were positive for the virus. This makes the weekly positivity rate for that period about 10.4% according to OEM report presented to the City Commission.

“Despite the City of McAllen and its community partners’ best efforts, the sheer number of immigrants being released into the city has become a crisis: a crisis the City of McAllen did not create and has proactively tried to avoid for seven years,” the press release said. “Now, with the drastic, unexpected increase of immigrants arriving to McAllen, the City Commission’s first priority is to protect the health and safety of the residents they serve.”