Sacred Heart Church in El Paso, Texas, continues to act as a refuge for migrants as thousands are expected to arrive in the city as Title 42 comes to an end.
In response to the unprecedented surge of migrants across the U.S.-Mexico border which began in December 2022, Sacred Heart opened its gym with no preparation time to provide overnight shelter to people who needed emergency accommodations in winter weather as they awaited their next steps in seeking asylum in the U.S. Bishop Mark Seitz had urged all parishes to respond.
Since April 1, the shelter, Casa del Sagrado Corazon, has been operating on a 24-hour basis, primarily sheltering women and children.
The imminent lifting of the ban on migrants on May 11 has many shelters throughout El Paso operating at maximum capacity. Father Rafael Garcia, SJ, pastor of Sacred Heart Church, the shelter director and their team strive to serve as many as possible.
“We are serving people that come to us,” Fr. Garcia said. “We are not a part of any other system at this point. People just come.”
The parish has been operating the shelter on donations and grants from some religious congregations, but the economic needs are daunting, with 20+ staff persons (3 shifts and kitchen), food, utilities, supplies, over-the-counter medications, etc. In exceptional cases, the shelter assists with travel to the migrant’s destination city.
“We will do what we can according to our capacity,” is an ongoing consoling motto for Fr. Garcia and the team.
The El Paso community leads the country in migrant encounters, sparking a renewed need for additional shelters as soon as possible.
While the situation is overwhelming for Sacred Heart Church and other shelters throughout El Paso, Fr. Garcia finds hope in the assistance they have received so far. On April 24, the number of asylum seekers increased drastically, much beyond the shelter’s capacity. Unfortunately, many have to camp out in the alley and sidewalks.
The Diocese of El Paso is in the process of engaging more parishes as well as ministers for the needs of these vulnerable families and individuals.
“We’re very happy to do this, but it’s a lot of work and it needs a lot of resources. So, we welcome any assistance we can get,” says Fr. Garcia.