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On the U.S.-Mexico border, crowds of migrants and a ‘broken’ system

May saw the highest number of crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border since 2007. Due to the surge and a new Trump administration policy that keeps asylum seekers in Mexico until their claims are processed, communities on both sides of the divide are struggling to handle the population influx. Many asylum seekers are families fleeing instability and violence in their countries. Amna Nawaz reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Last month, apprehensions of undocumented migrants at the U.S. southern border reached their highest total since 2007.

    President Trump claims his threat of tariffs will force Mexico to stem the flow of arrivals. In the meantime, communities along both sides of the border are responding to the increase in families and children fleeing instability and violence, arriving in need of immediate help.

    Our Amna Nawaz reports from both sides of the border, beginning in El Paso, Texas.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Two months ago, Emerita fled her home country of Honduras. She shows us these scars as evidence of the abuse she suffered. She fears for her life, she says, because she's gay.

    She crossed illegally into the U.S., seeking asylum, but, under a Trump administration policy, was sent back to Mexico until her court date. With no money and no support, she sought refuge in this church shelter in Juarez. Her first hearing, later this month, could determine her fate.

    The sudden increase in the number of migrants being forced to wait in Mexico has stressed already thin resources here. Faith and private communities have leapt into action, opening shelters like this one in West Juarez.

    The Trump administration had already slowed legal entry, forcing thousands of migrants to wait across the border here in Mexico in lines. Then came a policy sending asylum seekers back to Mexico, across bridges like this one here in Juarez, while their cases unfolded in the U.S. Now an expansion of the policy means thousands of more people will be forced to wait here in Mexico, facing uncertainty.

    But the Mexican government accepts only a certain number of migrants awaiting immigration hearings in the U.S., a number the Trump administration says is increasing. The rest of the migrants arriving at the southern border are allowed to cross and await their court dates.

    Over the border in El Paso, it's a very different scene. Ruben Garcia, a longtime immigration advocate here, has moved quickly to respond to the influx of families crossing into the U.S., partnering with faith communities and aid groups, and fielding private donations.

  • Ruben Garcia:

    When all the buses arrive, the vast majority of these cots will be out, and they will have someone on them, 500 of them.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Border Patrol buses regularly drop off families as they're released from custody, often from outdated, overcrowded, and under-resourced facilities. Most arrive with nothing but the clothes on their backs. And most leave within a day or two to destinations across the country, where they will await their court dates.

    Volunteers here connect migrants with sponsors, usually family, help to arrange travel, and swiftly move them out, care packages in hand.

  • Ruben Garcia:

    The federal government, DHS, CBP, Border Patrol, ICE, their inability to understand that, if attention is paid to organization, then the release of people doesn't have to be chaos. It doesn't.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Thirteen-year-old Estefani came with her father from Guatemala. The number assigned to her by Border Patrol, 46, is just starting to fade from her hand.

    Estefani says she wants to learn English, to get a job, and one day return to Guatemala. But while the border cities bear the burden, the effect of the influx is being felt further north, too.

    So, we're on our way now to Las Cruces, New Mexico. It's a city about an hour north of the border, where the federal government has been busing migrant families. And we're going to check out a shelter that's actually being run by the city.

  • Udell Vigil:

    We really recognized it was a humanitarian situation that we were faced with, and the city council knew that, if we didn't take care of them, the risk was, Border Patrol would just drop them off at bus stations or randomly on the side of the road someplace.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Udell Vigil works for Las Cruces. The city's been running this shelter, a former National Guard armory, for almost two months. They house roughly 200 people for about 24 to 48 hours, offering a meal, a shower, clean clothes, and medical care, before helping families on to their next step.

    So far, they have processed around 10,000 migrants.

  • Udell Vigil:

    And they are coming here with absolutely nothing. They are fellow human beings. They deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and we are going to do that, and we're going to do that the best way we can.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But, back in El Paso, Ruben Garcia argues that, once migrants are vetted and released from federal custody, it's up to private communities to receive and help them. That's the way, he says, it's always been.

    But it costs you $30,000 a month just to rent this place, right?

  • Ruben Garcia:

    For this one, yes, yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You really think there are communities out there that can just pull together $30,000 a month?

  • Ruben Garcia:

    You mean Dallas can't do this, Denver can't do this? It is inconceivable to me that the faith communities of these cities wouldn't, at the drop of a hat, step forward and say, we absolutely can, and we absolutely will.

  • Dee Margo:

    People need to understand, this whole system is broken.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Dee Margo is the mayor of El Paso. What he calls political drama, he says, has gotten in the way of finding solutions.

  • Dee Margo:

    These are solvable problems, if Congress would develop some intestinal fortitude, and to do what's right, irrespective of how people perceive it on a political basis.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    What do you want to see in terms of specific action from the federal government? What would help your city?

  • Dee Margo:

    You take away the politicos and those who say, well, I need X-billion for a fence, or I want this in the way of troops, or I want that.

    No, Homeland Security should be given that authority to come up with what the solution is to control our borders, and the resources should be provided by Congress.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    I didn't hear you say a wall or Mexican tariffs.

  • Dee Margo:

    I don't think that that is a — that was a viable solution.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    What would the impact of tariffs, an increase in tariffs have been on El Paso?

  • Dee Margo:

    Draconian.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    While private groups and local governments have worked to meet the arriving migrants' needs, the federal government has worked to keep them out.

    In Juarez alone, an estimated 7,000-plus now wait for their turn to legally enter the United States, in a city with few resources to help them, on a journey with no end in sight.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Amna Nawaz in Juarez, Mexico, and El Paso, Texas.

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