AGUA PRIETA — It’s the first place desperate families and individuals stop after they’ve left their countries in search of freedom from whatever situation dogs them.
This unassuming shelter, known as the Centro de Atencion Al Migrante Exodus — the Center for Assistance for the Migrant Exodus — is just steps from the port of entry between Agua Prieta, Sonora and Douglas, Arizona, and it is filled to capacity with migrants who are hoping to seek asylum in the United States.
But that’s not enough room for the one facility in this city of 79,138 people that migrants run to in their time of despair.
“We have a great need,” says Beto Ramos, director of the shelter. “We only have 44 beds and we’re getting more and more families (daily).”
The goal is to increase the space to accommodate 100 people, Ramos said.
“We also need a bigger area so that the migrants can have some activities while they’re at the shelter,” Ramos said. “Many of them are afraid to even go outside. We need a bigger space so that they can have privacy and security. We want a place where they can feel at home.”
Ramos told the Herald/Review that migrants are pouring in from Central America, but also from other countries, such as Cuba. In fact, since August, 80 percent of the migrants flocking to the shelter have come from Cuba, Ramos said.
There also have been migrants from Russia, China and of course from Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras, the four main Central American countries that have been ensnared in drug crimes and gang violence over the last several years.
This past spring, there were so many people leaving their countries that the shelter at one point was housing 160 migrants, Ramos said.
“There was high stress,” he said. “We cannot do that again. We must currently stick to only 44 people until we expand the shelter.”
But if someone in dire straits shows up at the door, Ramos said, they will not be turned away.
Ramos has been working with faith-based organizations in the U.S. to raise money for the expansion of the shelter. A building is already in place, Ramos said, but it still needs a kitchen and a security system to prevent outsiders from trespassing or endangering the migrants’ safety.
“We need about another $14,000 to complete the new center,” Ramos said.
The new shelter also will have separate areas for men, women and families. Migrants also will be allowed to stay longer while they gain the information and assistance they need for the next step in the asylum process, Ramos said.
“We help them with all that,” Ramos said.
One of the organizations that works closely with Ramos and helps run the shelter, is La Frontera de Cristo — Christ’s Border — in Douglas. The organization, described as a Presbyterian bi-national border ministry, has been helping with fundraising, as well as other issues.
Mark Adams, one of two coordinators at Frontera, said the latter held an emergency fundraising effort this past spring that raised $23,000 toward the expansion of the shelter. Frontera also collaborates with the shelter on educational matters, joint liturgical services and campaigns aimed at raising consciousness in the community regarding the plight of migrants.
Rev. Rosa Brown of St. John’s and St. Stephen Episcopal churches in Bisbee and Douglas, respectively, also works hand in hand with Ramos and the shelter. Brown’s church in Douglas feeds the migrants who have left Ramos’ shelter and are waiting to apply for asylum.
These migrants are currently being housed in a tent pitched against a wall right at the border and just outside the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Raul Hector Castro Port of Entry in Douglas.
“Everyone who is at the line in the tent waiting for their turn to apply for asylum, has gone through the shelter,” Ramos said.
Brown praised Ramos because of his tireless work at the shelter and his refusal to turn away the most needy.
“Beto is trying to help,” Brown said. “There is a big need. There has been an increase of families coming through to seek asylum. We’re all trying to give.”
Anyone interested in donating to the expansion effort of Centro de Atencion Al Migrante Exodus, is asked to contact Frontera de Cristo, 520-364-9257.