LAREDO, Texas – Having been through the 2019 surge of Central Americans arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, pastor Mike Smith of the Holding Institute Community Center, said, “I’ve seen crisis.”
Smith said what is happening now under the Biden administration is not yet “a crisis moment.”
“We’re not even in panic mode,” Smith said. “We’re in, ‘Let’s plan carefully. Let’s do the logistics. Let’s be ready. Let’s be prepared.’”
Smith said Laredo’s only overnight migrant shelter with just 70 beds expects to receive families still left in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, under what had been Migrant Protection Program under the Donald Trump administration.
He said at least 500 active MPP cases awaiting asylum have registered on portal set up by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees.
Holding Institute could see migrants arrive by the end of the month, Smith said.
However, Smith said COVID-19 has been the curveball they’ve had to take into account.
Smith said people are tested before leaving Mexico, and again, when they arrive at Holding Institute.
Only about 5% test positive, he said, and then placed in quarantine on-site.
“Our homeless population that is willing to be get tested, is probably double that,” Smith said.
Smith said he’s also seeing more families being released from two detention centers in Webb County, perhaps to make room for more arrivals as early as April.
Since Laredo’s ports of entry have been closed to non-essential travel since the pandemic began, Smith said he doesn’t expect the flow of people to rapidly increase.
Smith also said the lack of uncertainty over the policies under the new Biden administration have made many cautious about crossing.
“They don’t want to be sent back,” he said. “But the numbers are there on the Mexican side. They just haven’t crossed over yet.”