Martha's Vineyard greeted 50 migrants. In El Paso, up to 2K migrants arrive daily.

Denise Coffey
Cape Cod Times

The arrival of 50 South American migrants on Martha’s Vineyard on Sept. 14 sent the small island community into emergency mode. With no advance notice of the migrant's arrival, community members, church leaders, police, and emergency directors sprang into action.  

They fed the men, women and children who arrived on two planes at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport. They found a place for them to sleep and gathered shoes and clothing. They drove the migrants from a community services center to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Edgartown.

A long journey:Venezuelan migrants share their stories before leaving Martha's Vineyard. What they said

Unexpected arrivals of migrants are a daily experience in southern border cities like El Paso, Texas, but on a much larger scale. 

Before the migrants were put on planes to Martha’s Vineyard, they had been staying in San Antonio, Texas, which sees a daily average of 600 arrivals, according to the city’s Immigration Services. More than 500 miles away in El Paso, authorities estimate 1,300 to 2,000 migrants a day are crossing the border.  

El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser said Venezuelans make up the greatest share of migrants entering the U.S. from Mexico.

El Paso’s Mayor Oscar Leeser, a Democrat, said in an interview Sunday on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” that 80% of the 2,000 migrants arriving daily are Venezuelan.

“That’s where a big part of the migrant surge is coming from,” he said. 

In the first 10 months of fiscal 2022, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol encountered or apprehended more than 130,000 Venezuelan nationals, up from more than 50,000 Venezuelans encountered or apprehended in fiscal 2021, according to the El Paso Times.

The biggest challenge facing Lesser, city officials and the border patrol is that up to half the Venezuelans arriving have no sponsor, a family member or friend who can arrange for their transportation and housing beyond the border, he said. The vast majority of previous migrants had a sponsor to help them get to their next destination and await the outcome of their pending immigration applications, he added.

Migrants sleeping on El Paso's streets

“We make sure we help them,” Leeser said. “We put them on buses with food and make sure they get to their destination and make sure that we always continue to greet and treat people like human beings.”

El Paso is putting some migrants in local shelters, which can accommodate 800 people according to Border Report, a NextStar Media Group publication. Others are being put up in hotels. Only 1% want to stay in El Paso, so the city is providing transportation for them to other locations in the U.S., and billing the federal government for the costs.

Migrants sleep in front of the Greyhound station as the sun rises on Sept. 15, 2022. Some migrants are awaiting help from family members in order to continue their journey inside the U.S. after filing a petition for asylum.

Still, the daily arrival of migrants is straining the city's capacity to help, leaving some migrants no other choice but to sleep on the streets until they are able to leave the area.

The city is paying for six to eight charter buses daily, according to the El Paso Times. The Office of Emergency Management has contracted 41 charter buses since July at a cost of $1 million, Deputy City Manager Mario D'Agostino told the El Paso Times.

What's different for migrants bussed from El Paso is that officials are being notified that migrants are headed to their cities so preparations can be made. Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Gov. Greg Abbot of Texas have put migrants on buses headed to New York, Washington, D.C., and Chicago without notifying state and/or city officials beforehand for the past few weeks. 

Explainer:Venezuelans migrating to the U.S. and now to Martha's Vineyard: 'Out of desperation'

El Paso lies across the Rio Grande River from Ciudad Juaez, Mexico. The water level in the river is low making for an easier crossing from Mexico into the U.S. 

El Paso’s Customs and Border Patrol Central Processing Center is operating at over capacity, Vice, a Canadian and American news outlet reported. The center is meant to hold migrants temporarily until they can be released with court dates for those seeking asylum.

The U.S. government has expelled a small fraction of arriving Venezuelans under the pandemic-era Title 42 public health policy, according to the El Paso Times.

Venezuelan migrants make their way across the Rio Grande River in a return trip to El Paso after buying food in Juárez, Mexico. The migrants had waited hours to be processed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Some migrants are held for public safety reasons; others are provisionally released with appointments with ICE and court dates. The U.S. Border Patrol sometimes coordinates with local governments and cities to bring migrants to other locations. But El Paso is not close to transportation services and is relatively isolated. Leeser has relied on busing to move some migrants to other locales.  

Mexico has agreed to take migrants from Mexico and a few other countries, but they have not agreed to take Venezuelan nationals.   

Related:Punish sanctuary states, derail asylum: Legal questions swirl around DeSantis' migrant relocation effort

Venezuelan migrants who came to the U.S. prior to March 8, 2021, were granted Temporary Protective Status, but that status is no longer available. And because the U.S. suspended diplomatic relations with Venezuela in 2019, the governments will not coordinate on expulsion efforts.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, said on the Sept. 18 broadcast of “Face the Nation with Margaret Brennan,” that he would like to see the administration make public statements about returning migrants to their countries of origin. He thinks there is no reason to wait for immigration reform to solve these problems because there are enough laws on the books that will enable the U.S. to return people to their countries of origin. 

Otherwise, he said, the border could get 8,000 people a day.

Contact Denise Coffey at Follow her on Twitter: @DeniseCoffeyCCT.