Meet A Mayor Facing The Migrant Surge Firsthand

Originally published on July 2, 2014 7:20 pm
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The first U.S. city that many migrants see after they cross the border is McAllen, Texas. It's near the southern tip of the state, just across the Rio Grande from Mexico. After being detained and processed by Border Patrol, the migrants are dropped McAllen's bus station, where they either board buses for other cities or are taken to a local church for food, shelter and medical care. In the last month alone, McAllen has seen about 4,000 people come through, nearly all of them women and children. For more on how the city is responding to the surge we've reach McAllen's mayor, Jim Darling. Mayor Darling, welcome to the program.


BLOCK: And can you describe for us the scene at the bus stop there in McAllen?

DARLING: Well, it first came about - about a month ago, when the city manager called me and said we're ready to close the bus station and we still have about 40 people here, mostly women and children. And they're waiting for the bus tomorrow. And they were kind of taxing the facilities because they were - the restrooms and etc. And so - and that's when the Catholic charity stepped up in the church and said, you know, we'll provide some sort of services to the families.

BLOCK: Short-term stay before they can get on a bus to go elsewhere?

DARLING: That's right. They're processed relatively quickly at the Border Patrol Station. A lot of them have the clothes on their back since their journey - a lot of dehydration and diarrhea and just generally tired.

BLOCK: So what's the scene now at the church or the churches where they're being brought?

DARLING: You know, we have a process now in conjunction with the Border Patrol. We know when the bus is going to be there so we have a volunteer meet the people. And they go get their ticket. Then the city escorts - takes them by bus to Sacred Heart. They're giving food, a hot meal, clothes, medical treatment. They get a shower and they can rest, depending on how long it is. We have air-conditioned tents, which are built for that kind of process. And then before they go, they're given, essentially, three days provision because many don't have any money. And some of the bus trips take - are overnight or more.

BLOCK: Well, when you look at that situation and the numbers of families that are coming through McAllen, how does that strike you? And what does that mean for your city?

DARLING: Well, I mean, first off, you know, they've couched this as a humanitarian crisis. And I think it certainly is. The journey across Mexico is fraught with all kinds of dangers and hardships. And I think they feel - at least, my impression from workers there and observation is - they feel that they've made it. They get what they call a really a permiso. It's really a notice to appear in immigration court and that allows them to get past the checkpoint that's 50 miles away from here, to go to their destination. And so, you know, I think that's fueling the rumor down in Central America that if you get across and the Border Patrol picks you up, you've made it. And whether or not they're going to get deported or not is another story. That's up to the immigration process. So I'm not here to debate the immigration process. We're just here to make sure that if there's a humanitarian need, we're going to try to meet it.

BLOCK: Mayor Darling, I was reading an op-ed that you wrote this week, describing the situation there in McAllen. And you wrote that you're not facing a health crisis, as you see it. You say crime isn't up. And you expect McAllen to treat these temporary visitors, as you call them, with dignity and humanity, with open hearts and a helping hand. I wonder, realistically, how long you think McAllen can keep this up?

DARLING: Yeah, you know, it gets to be a fairness for our taxpayers, who are seeking out some financial support. And so we reached out to the federal government, FEMA and the state government to we can't sustain it. It's not fair to our taxpayers. It's certainly a stress on the Catholic charities and other charities that are providing services. And our citizens, by the way, are contributing to this cause. So we expect to have some reimbursement. And hopefully, we'll find out this week or early next week whether that will be possible or not. And, you know, the federal government's got a couple trillion dollar budget. Surely they can find some money to support this process.

BLOCK: Are you seeing any signs, Mayor Darling, that the numbers are tapering off?

DARLING: No, in fact, I received a report from somebody from Monterrey, Mexico today that said there's a lot of people in Monterrey that are queuing up to come over here. So, at least from that indication, it's not slowing down. I know the federal government's going to Central America saying, you know, if you come up here, there's a chance you may not get citizenship. I don't think that discourages many people, when you couch it in that form. You know, it has to be something more negative than that. Say, if you come up here, then there's a good possibility, or even more substantive state than that, that you be relocated back to your country of origin. I think until it happens, people are going to be encouraged to come up here.

BLOCK: Mayor Darling, thanks so much for talking to us. I appreciate it.

DARLING: You're welcome.

BLOCK: That's Jim Darling, the mayor of McAllen, Texas.


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