cALLEN, Texas—They come in pairs, worn-out migrants carrying—or, in some cases being led by—children who range in age from infants to teenagers. Many of the adults weep openly when the doors to the parish hall of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen swing open and nuns, Jesuit priests and a host of local volunteers rise to their feet in a raucous standing ovation.
“Bienvenidos!” shouts volunteer Hermi Forshage, clapping. “Bienvenidos! Welcome!”
The migrants are too tired and disoriented to notice Forshage; they’re eager for an opportunity to wash, eat, and rest. Each is an undocumented family from Central America—Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, mostly—that is helping fuel what U.S. President Barack Obama has called a “humanitarian crisis” along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Most of the children who passed through the church one day last week were young, part of the recent surge in children under 12 caught at the border. There has been a 117 percent increase in the number of unaccompanied children caught at the border this year, compared with last year, according to the Pew Research Center. The number of children accompanied by an adult, meanwhile, has tripled, to more than 20,000.
Thousands of unaccompanied minors are housed in detention centers, but the families coming to the Sacred Heart Church represent that latter group—they are among the more than 55,000 migrants who have been provisionally cleared by U.S. Customs and Border Protection since the beginning of the year. They’ve been given temporary papers and can live with family members while awaiting a court date.