Flooding in Texas as a result of Hurricane Harvey is keeping undocumented immigrants processed by federal authorities and released to two Tucson shelters from continuing their final journey east to stay with relatives.
These immigrants, who are seeking political asylum, are processed by the Department of Homeland Security with a notice to appear before an immigration officer at their final destination.
Federal officials process the immigrants — mostly from Central America, but also from Europe, China, India and Africa — and then drop them off at the shelters. This began three years ago when Border Patrol was inundated with women and their children, and had no proper shelter to hold them, Dora Lopez, a site coordinator for Casa Alitas, said Monday.
Casa Alitas, or House with Little Wings, is located in a north-side neighborhood and operated by Catholic Community Services of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson.
The five-bedroom house with a spacious backyard was providing shelter to 17 people, said Lopez. Additional migrants will be placed in homes of volunteers if needed.
The other shelter, the Inn Project, is run by a faith-based organization located near the University of Arizona. It also was at capacity Monday, providing room for 50 people, said Diego Lopez, also a site coordinator who volunteers at Casa Alitas.
“We are at capacity because people cannot continue their journey into Houston,” said Diego Lopez. The bus routes go through Texas and the final destinations for the migrants include New York, Tennessee, Michigan, North Carolina, Kansas and Alabama, he said.
“Once the water subsides and Greyhound has the capability of travel, the people will be on their way. This will end the bottleneck,” he said. He explained that since June, Casa Alitas had been receiving up to two families a day, but on Friday the overload began with five families.
“It is better that they are here because they have no way to communicate with family members,” said Dora Lopez. “They will need shelter and food.”
“Here I am no longer hungry,” said Isabel, 20, a woman from Quiche, Guatemala, who has been at the shelter with her two sons, ages 4 and 2, since Aug. 25. She said she turned herself in to immigration officials in Nogales, Arizona, Aug. 22 and is seeking political asylum. She said she is on her way to Louisiana where her husband is working.
Isabel said she began her journey in July after she was threatened several times with extortion by a violent street gang, M-18, that terrorized her neighborhood. She said she was ordered to put $7,000 into a bank account or she and her children would be harmed.
“I don’t have that kind of money,” she said. She said she traveled with her children by foot, train and bus, begging for food and money along the way. “It was so hot. We suffered. There were days we had no food and my children suffered,” she said through tears.
“We are here now and I feel safe,” said Isabel. “I just want to be with my husband and have a tranquil life. I want peace.”
Meanwhile, the shelters are in need of deodorant, toothpaste, shampoo and lotion. They will also accept non-perishable foods and canned goods. Supplies can be dropped off at Catholic Community Services, 140 W. Speedway, on weekdays between 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Councilman Steve Kozachik is also accepting foods such as soups, juices, fruit and cooked vegetables, or prepackaged meals for the shelters. The items can be dropped off at the Ward 6 office, 3202 E. First St., weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.