A Brownsville man who reportedly drove a SUV into a group of 18 migrants has been charged in connection with the death of eight Venezuelan citizens, police announced during a press conference.

George Alvarez was officially arraigned and charged on Monday, May 8, with eight counts of manslaughter and 10 counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon one day after the incident happened across from the Ozanam Center, a refuge shelter on Minnesota Avenue.

A $3.6 million bond was set for Alvarez. The police are waiting for toxicology lab reports to determine if  alcohol or drugs were involved.

Alvarez reportedly yelled obscenities and made obscene gestures before hitting the migrants, witnesses at the scene said.

At about the same time of the conference, a vigil was held at the center to express sorrow and solidarity with the victims and with the 10 others who were injured.

Victor Maldonado, the center’s director, described the incident as something they have never experienced before.

“This has been a wake-up call for us,” he said, “but we will continue serving the people who come here.”

Norma Pimentel, executive director of the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, described the incident as a tremendous tragedy that has touched the lives of hundreds of people.

“We are in solidarity with them,” she said, referring to the victims. “We will continue to receive anybody arriving from other countries.”

Pimentel downplayed the ideas that the border has always been in a crisis and that it’s an open place for anyone coming into this country.

She added the scheduled end of Title 42 is what is causing a crisis today.

Title 42 is an old policy created to address public health and social welfare that grants the government the ability to take emergency actions. It became more of an issue when the Covid pandemic broke out in early 2020.

Several Venezuelans interviewed Sunday said they were sitting across the bus stop watching their fellow country men and women leave to other places in the United States like New York and Miami.

“I was right at the corner when I heard a loud noise and people screaming,” Erik Kuet said. “I saw people flying up as the vehicle kept on going.”

Another man said he could not believe that it had happened.

“These people made it here (the United States),” he said, declining to give his name. “We are all here seeking a better life. These people are now dead.”

Maria Gallegos, who lives within blocks of the incident, said the migrants are here temporarily and are not harming any one here.

“This is totally unacceptable,” she said. “I walk by the (Ozanam) center almost every day and I can hear them all talking and laughing.”

The center has long been a refuge shelter for thousands of migrants.

Maldonado said about 95 % of the people staying at the shelter today are from Venezuela.

Bu contrast, thousands of people from Nicaragua sought shelter there in the 1980s, following the 1979 Sandinista-led revolution that toppled the U.S-backed government of Anastasio Somoza Debayle.

The center was formerly known as Casa Arnulfo Romero, named after the slain bishop of San Salvador who was killed in March 1980.

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