As freezing temperatures hit El Paso, Texas, some immigrants who haven’t turned themselves in to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are having difficulty finding shelter.
Three people told CNN on condition of anonymity that they have been deported from the US several times in recent weeks. They said they no longer want to present themselves before border officials as they have been denied legal entry several times. The men claimed they crossed the river without being detected by the agents and went through border barriers.
El Paso city spokeswoman Laura Cruz Acosta said El Paso has opened government-run shelters at the convention center, in hotels and several disused schools, but CBP cannot accept immigrants without documents.
He said the city must comply with state and federal policies that reportedly say immigrants must have the necessary documentation to receive asylum in government-run facilities. If undocumented immigrants show up at government-run locations, they will be put in touch with CBP or NGO-run shelters on the ground to begin the handover process, he explained.
Undocumented immigrants have few housing options, but few NGOs accept them at their facilities.
CNN spoke to two shelters that accept undocumented immigrants but are overcrowded.
Immigrants fear for overcrowded shelters in El Paso
John Martin, deputy director of the Opportunity Center for the Homeless, told CNN that he has asked the city’s emergency department to open the conference center to undocumented immigrants for at least the next two days, but has been unsuccessful.
On Wednesday night, more than 290 men slept at the men’s shelter run by his organization, despite the space designed for only 125 people.
“We are literally forced to close our doors tonight,” he said. “We just can’t accommodate any more.”
At the nearby Church of the Sacred Heart, those in charge explained that it had a normal capacity of 130 people, but that they were going to expand it to 200 during the next four nights, and that they were giving priority to women and children. But hundreds of people are still waiting outside the church.
“My biggest fear is that no one will wake up tomorrow morning,” Martin told CNN. “I hope to be wrong”.