(NewsNation) — As politicians debate the best way to handle record numbers of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, those who make it to the U.S. face uncertainty as border towns lack the resources to handle the influx of people.
NewsNation’s Ali Bradley spent 24 hours with migrants in El Paso, Texas, to see what life was like for those who have recently crossed the border.
Vincente Salcedo’s home is now the intersection of Oregon Street and 4th Avenue. He’d been living on the street since Dec. 30 when he came to the U.S. from Venezuela. After he arrived, he got stuck in the same red-tape limbo faced by many others.
“I’ve only seen situations like this in the movies, people outside a homeless shelter waiting to be taken in,” Salcedo said.
For Border Patrol agents, it also feels like a movie, with millions of migrants making their way across the border with little they can do to stop it.
“They’re coming across in record numbers because they know they’re not being detained,” Art Del Cueto, vice president of the National Border Patrol Council, told NewsNation. “They know that they just have to step foot in America, claim asylum, have no criminal record in the United States and they get released.”
In the alley by Sacred Heart church, breakfast was served: a cup of coffee and a warm meal for migrants with no other resources in the U.S.
But even donated resources are scarce. Just after 10 a.m., the shelter ran out of clean towels, which meant no more showers for the day.
Food is also precious. Migrants can’t just eat whenever they feel hungry. Instead, they consume small meals or snacks when available — typically when people drop off food at the shelter to help feed the crowds.
In the early afternoon, Venezuelan Yuleidis Silva and her three small children were asked to move from the alley where they had been sleeping so maintenance work could be done. They had to find a new place before nightfall, which can be dangerous.
Silva and her children were trying to find a way to be reunited with her husband in Chicago. But she didn’t know whom to trust.
“We could all be from the same country, but we don’t know who’s a good person and who is not,” Silva said.
Later, a good Samaritan dropped off cartons of milk and Silva’s daughter had a cup, before the mother decided to brave the walk of a few blocks to another shelter.
The sun set in the early evening, but the day wasn’t done. Someone dropped off bags of clothes to help stay warm during the cold nights.
Carlos Duran phoned family members back home in Venezuela.
“We talk to our family members back home, who are worried about us,” he said.
By 7 p.m., families lined up at a shelter to find out if they would be able to sleep indoors that night. Only women and families were eligible; no single men were allowed.
For the newly migrated, life is all about standing in line. Waiting for food, hoping for a warm place to sleep.
Just before 8 p.m., it was time for another line.
A cup of hot soup, much needed for the men who will later have to spend the night outside, is the prize at the end of the queue. Temperatures were already in the low 40s and were still dropping.
As the evening continued, migrants prepared to sleep. Salcedo piled on layer upon layer of clothing to keep warm, while Duran scouted out a spot to protect himself from the wind. Because of his height, Duran had to sleep curled up. Cramped legs are one reason he can’t get a good night’s sleep.
“One is worried if Border Patrol will come to take us or not, and that’s why the nights seem much longer,” he said.
Still, the streets of El Paso were quiet compared to just a few weeks earlier. Local officials said there was an increased presence of border agents.
“We’ve seen Border Patrol agents come to this area and pick people up. I think so many people are afraid they are going to be next,” said El Paso County Commissioner David Stout.
Salcedo prayed before bed, reading passages from the Bible. By midnight, most of the migrants were asleep, trying to stay warm. Blankets and tarps rustled, waking people up throughout the night, though both Salcedo and Duran managed to sleep through it.
The next morning, both men made sure their areas were clean and their beds removed from the sidewalks. Then it was time to begin again; the hunt for food and a bathroom started all over.
When asked what he missed most about his previous life, Salcedo’s answer was simple.
“A good shower, and a room where I can get a good night’s sleep,” he said.