EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Advocates on Friday chastised Republicans for “exaggerating” the ongoing migrant surge and asked the Biden administration to set up welcome centers for the newcomers.

These federally funded “Ellis Islands” should process migrants fleeing crime, poverty and natural disasters in their countries, provide health checks and COVID-19 screening, temporary housing and facilitate family reunification, the advocates said. Procuring them transportation to their final destinations inside the U.S. shouldn’t be out of the question, either, the advocates say.

Migrant families and children being paroled by U.S. Customs and Border Protection after crossing the border are being released to nonprofit shelters in border communities like Brownsville and El Paso. So is a smaller number of returning asylum-seekers being phased out of the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program, also known as “Remain in Mexico.”

“This something that shouldn’t be the responsibility of nonprofit organizations. We are doing it because we believe in our humanity and in our community. But this is something that needs an institutional response,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights. “We need massive resources on the ground not for detention centers to assist these people.”

Garcia and other advocates taking part in a Friday news conference on Zoom acknowledged the Biden administration wasn’t prepared to handle increased arrivals of unaccompanied children and migrant families from Central America. This migration is taking place on top of a months-long surge of single Mexican citizens crossing the border without authorization.

“I do believe this administration was not prepared for this adjustment of immigration flows that followed four years in which flows were contained and attacked with agreements with Mexico and harsh measures at the border,” Garcia said.

“The administration was not prepared for this situation; we have opportunities to do this better,” added Adriana Cadena, coordinator for Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance (RITA).

Garcia said Republicans are exaggerating the scope of the current surge for political purposes. He said unaccompanied minors have been steadily coming to the U.S. border seeking admission for the past few years. He quoted research he said was based on CBP data saying more than 60,000 unaccompanied migrant children came to the U.S. in 2016 and 50,000 and 70,000 came in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

“It’s important to set the record straight on what is happening at the border,” Garcia said. “It’s not true that we have an immigration crisis […] If we have a crisis, it’s a crisis of institutional response because the last four years of the Trump administration were dedicated to destroy and dismantle asylum for immigrants and children.”

U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, concurs that border communities have been dealing with immigration for decades.

“The frustration for us is that it’s an easy excuse to basically ignore the root cause of the challenges we face today,” Escobar said. “I feel confident on the Biden administration to commit to address those root causes. […] It’s not happening fast enough in terms of rebuilding the infrastructure the Trump administration tore down.”

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