Migrants being dropped off by the bus load, some needing medical attention

Churches struggling to meet migrant needs

TUCSON, AZ (KOLD News 13) - Every day, buses are pulling up to the Benedictine Monastery shelter run by the Casa Alitas program. Dropping off dozens of migrants who have been recently released from ICE Detention.

All they have with them is a big clear bag, the clothes on their back, and shoes without any laces. Shoe laces along with hair ties are some of the things taken from the migrants while in detention.

ICE Public Affairs Officer Yasmeen Pitts O’Keefe said that 14,500 family units have been released in Arizona alone since Dec. 21, 2018. In total 84,500 have been released across the U.S.

On Friday, three new bus loads arrived at the monastery carrying families who need medical help.

Today, they are housing less than 200 migrants. Last weekend, they saw well over 300. Each day is different. They can see anywhere from nine migrants dropped off, to upwards of 150. They can spend anywhere from 48-72 hours at the shelter before moving on.

ICE spokesperson Yasmeen Pitts O'Keefe said they are aware of the increase of migrants being released to these shelters. "ICE wants to mitigate strains placed on resources in the local community as we continue to see high volumes of families crossing the border.”

And if shelters reach capacity, they turn to Plan B. "However, when these organizations cannot support high volumes of families, ERO releases them to the bus station at the request of the families." said O'Keefe

The Casa Alitas program at the monastery has 400 volunteers on staff and 180 medical providers. They’re treating things like dehydration, the flu, and even the chicken pox.

The Director of Operations for Casa Alitas, Teresa Cavendish, said that they have seen about a dozen cases and have had to put several families in isolation to keep the disease from spreading. They have also been able to administer 900 flu shots.

Migrant families can also be dealing with illness related to not eating well. Some of the them can have a hard time stomaching the food served in detention.

“It’s not just the time they’ve spent in the detention center. But it’s the time that they’ve had just to get here from where they’re coming from which is several days.” said Diane McClure, a nurse with RNRN (Registered Nurse Response Network). She flew in from Sacramento on Thursday and will spend the next few days here tending to families. Nurses with RNRN have been showing up every weekend to volunteer their time. Some from out of state, others from within Arizona.

While at the shelter families are able to communicate and arrange for travel to their families here in the U.S. or their sponsor. Casa Alitas helps them book bus or plane tickets and even gives the families bags of food before they leave.

It’s full of things like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, crackers, protein bars, and juice. Things, Cavendish said, can be the difference between success and failure for their next journey.

The room where these food bags are complied have bins full of snacks. It looks like a lot, but Cavendish said within a day or two it could be empty if not for donations to replenish it. Some families will receive more than one bag depending on their journey.

“If you're a family of 4 or 5 and you’re trying to keep your kids comfortable or reasonable as you travel across the country, you need a lot.” said Cavendish.

Donations have also come in the form of clothes. Inside the monastery is a “thrift store” like set up where families can pick out items in a dignified manner. Cavendish said a lot of migrants only show up with flip flops and may be traveling to colder parts of the country. That’s why the shoes are one of the most sought after items in the “store.” The families are also given shoe laces and hair ties first thing when they arrive.

Those interested in making a donation, Cavendish said the one thing the shelter always needs is fresh fruit.

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