NEW YORK (HPD) — When Wilfredo Molina arrived in the United States from his native Venezuela, he told border agents he wanted to go to Miami but didn’t have an address. He was directed to what he thought was a shelter in midtown Manhattan, but it turned out to be an office building.
“It was a fake building. I didn’t understand what it was,” she said.
Molina is one of 13 migrants who recently arrived in the United States and agreed to share with The Associated Press the documents that the Border Patrol gave them when they were released from their custody after crossing the border with Mexico. The HPD found that most of the migrants had no idea where they were going, nor did the people at the addresses listed on their documentation.
Customs and Border Protection, which oversees the Border Patrol, did not respond to repeated questions about the families and individuals interviewed and the addresses assigned to them.
Documents shown to the HPD suggest a pattern by Border Patrol agents, particularly in Texas, of sending immigrants with no friends or relatives in the United States to offices without notice. Those places often don’t have room to house the migrants, and because those addresses appear on the migrants’ paperwork, the government often sends them important notices there.
“We think the Border Patrol is trying to bring the chaos they experience at the border to cities in the interior,” said Denise Chang, executive director of the Colorado Housing Asylum Network. “We just need to coordinate with them so that we can receive people properly.”
Addresses in documents shown to HPD included administrative offices for Catholic Charities in New York and San Antonio; a church in El Paso, Texas; a private home in West Bridgewater, Massachusetts, and a group that operates homeless shelters in Salt Lake City.
A Venezuelan family who arrived at the American Red Cross administrative offices in Denver was referred to several shelters before anyone offered to take them in. Immigrants who arrived in New York ended up in temporary shelters, hotels or apartments that the city helped them find and pay for.
All of this is happening at a time when US authorities are stopping huge numbers of migrants at the border with Mexico. The US government detained immigrants 2.15 million times between October 2021 and August this year, the first time the number has exceeded two million in a fiscal year.
Many are immediately removed under a public health order known as Title 42 that denies people the ability to apply for asylum in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But others, including those from Cuba and Nicaragua – countries with which the United States has strained relations – are released with notices to appear in immigration court or on humanitarian parole. Those immigrants must tell agents where they will be living, but many cannot provide an address.
“It almost seems like, at the border, officials are just looking for any non-profit group address or just looking for any name and just writing that down without checking if that person (the immigrant) has mentioned it, if there are beds or shelter in that place, or if that is a place that can provide legal assistance,” said Lauren Wyatt, an attorney with Catholic Charities of New York. “Clearly this is not the most effective way to do this.”
Most of the migrants interviewed in New York had boarded taxpayer-funded buses that Texas and the city of El Paso have been sending regularly to that city.
Republican Governors Ron DeSantis of Florida, Greg Abbott of Texas and Doug Ducey of Arizona have also been sending migrants released at the border to Democratic strongholds, including Chicago, Washington and Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. They have been criticized for not notifying local officials about the shipments. Republicans say they are showing the world the problems with President Joe Biden’s immigration policies.
The Biden administration recently agreed to accept up to 24,000 Venezuelans at US airports if they apply for asylum in advance online and show details of US-based sponsors. Similarly, it accepts Ukrainian refugees due to the Russian invasion. Mexico has said it will accept Venezuelans who cross the border into the United States and are later expelled under Title 42.
Yeysy Hernandez, a Venezuelan who arrived in New York after taking one of the buses from El Paso, said the address on her documents is for an El Paso church where she slept one night.
Hundreds of immigrants have shown up at one of the New York Catholic Charities offices with documents showing that address. Wyatt said the group complained and the government promised to end the practice by August 1, which “obviously hasn’t happened.”
The group has also received more than 300 notices to appear in immigration court targeting people the organization does not know, Wyatt said. He also received deportation orders for immigrants who did not appear in court because their notices were sent to a Catholic Charities address.
Victor Quijada traveled with relatives last month to Denver, Colorado, after border agents sent them to an American Red Cross office building. Once there, they were referred to a city shelter that also turned them away. They eventually found a shelter that took them in for a few days, but they felt unsafe.
“What we had to go through was hard; from the things we had to eat, to being on the streets. It was an experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone,” Quijada said.
Chang of the Colorado Housing Asylum Network eventually brought the family home, and her organization helped them rent an apartment. She said that she knows of several migrants assigned to group addresses that cannot help them.
“The five families that I’ve worked with in the last three months, all five of them were picked up off the street, literally sitting on the sidewalk with kids,” he said.
The building in midtown Manhattan that Molina went to is an International Rescue Committee (IRC) refugee resettlement office, but it provides limited services to asylum seekers there, said Stanford Prescott, a spokesman for the group.
Only one of the IRC offices in the United States, in Phoenix, operates a shelter for asylum seekers, and most stay there for less than 48 hours. However, its offices in Dallas and Atlanta have also been included in the migrants’ documents.
“We are deeply concerned that wrongly listing these addresses could create complications for asylum seekers who are pursuing legal process to seek safety in the United States,” Prescott said.