MCALLEN, RGV – The U.S. government’s policy of stopping asylum seekers from entering Arizona and California by keeping them in Mexico makes South Texas a more attractive proposition for such migrants.

This is the view of McAllen Mayor Jim Darling. Darling told the McAllen Economic Development Corporation that Border Patrol had released 900 asylum seekers onto the streets of McAllen on Tuesday and a further 600 on Wednesday.

Because the border wall in South Texas is sometimes half a mile or a mile away from the Rio Grande, a ‘keep them in Mexico’ policy does not work. All the asylum seeker has to do is cross the river and put one foot on U.S. soil. They must then be processed. 

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling

“For those that don’t know we have had increases and releases of asylum seekers from DHS. We had 900 people on Tuesday, 600-plus yesterday, the last time we were out there, Roy was out there,” Darling told the McAllen EDC board of directors.

The “Roy“ Darling was referring to was Roy Rodriguez, the McAllen city manager. Rodriguez was at the McAllen EDC board meeting.

Darling made his comments on the same day Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was in McAllen. At a news conference, Nielsen confirmed migrants are being booked in by Border Patrol and then released into the community with a promise to return to court. She said Border Patrol does not have space to house all the asylum seekers.

“We don’t have facilities to hold the numbers we are seeing. We are out of detention space. So, due to emergent situation at particular areas, field decisions are made as to what we can do to expedite the processing,“ Nielsen told reporters.

Civil rights groups say they have noticed a sharp drop in the migrants appearing in court, suggesting the asylum seekers have been held back for release all at once into the community. Nielsen disputed claims that her new guidelines were a return to the old “catch and release” policy of the Obama administration.

Darling said that while his city is on the front line, dealing with asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants in general is a federal problem. 

“Border Patrol is overwhelmed. They are having to release people more quickly than they would want to. And there is no solution because the solution from the federal government’s standpoint is make them wait in Mexico for their asylum hearings,” Darling said.

“That works in San Diego because they have a border that has a wall, right on the border. Same thing in Nogales, Arizona. But here, the wall is a mile away and it is not completed. But even if it was it would still be a mile away from the river. All they (the asylum seekers) have to do is cross the river.

“So, the solution from the federal government so far of holding the people in Mexico obviously does not work here. That is obviously why we have seen all the numbers that we are seeing. We are working on not making that a story, hopefully.”

Darling was only half joking when he suggested McAllen EDC board members take in family of asylum seekers. 

“I know you are all empty nesters. If you have any room in your house let us know. We can sign you up. They (the asylum seekers) only stay for one or two days and they are delightful people.”

Darling said city officials are working hard “not make it a story.” He said that has always been the city’s deal. 

“And so Roy and his staff are working on alternative locations to take care of some of the overflow. We have to abandon the one on Hackberry because of a city commission ruling,” Darling said, referring to a property leased by Catholic Charities of the RGV.

“We are desperately trying to do that,” Darling said, referring to the city’s efforts to find accommodation for the asylum seekers. 

“The publicity is not very good in the paper about that but really our position is this is a humanitarian thing. More importantly, from a city standpoint you do not want 900 people walking around town with no place to go, no place to sleep, no place to use a restroom, and no food. Look at those headlines in the paper, as opposed to what we have right now.”

Interviewed by the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM after the MEDC board meeting, Darling:

“Can you imagine yesterday, having 900 people being released by the Border Patrol downtown, saying, here you are and there is no bus service to get you anywhere? Where are they going to sleep? Do you want that to be a headline in your newspaper? Do you want your business community to have people sleeping in their doorways?”

Darling said once processed by Border Patrol, asylum seekers are issued with papers confirming they promise to appear in court at a later date.

“They have a promise to appear in court. They are just as legal as you and me today. Obviously they are here seeking asylum but they are just as legal to go across the checkpoint as you and I.”

Asked about the volumes of migrants being released into his community, Darling said: 

“You are talking a caravan in one day. A caravan that made all the big news and was a catastrophe and the reason for the emergency being released in our city in a two-day period. 

“The frustrating part for me is – I need to go on Rush Limbaugh tomorrow – the debate in Washington is build the wall to stop the asylum seekers because that is a humanitarian crisis. But the border wall is not a solution.”

Asked to explain, Darling said:

“The policy is, keep them in Mexico until they have their hearing. It such a long process they are probably not going to come back. That is working in San Diego. But all that does is push them here because the wall is not on the border. We have a border and that is a river and once you cross the river, it is my understanding that legally, you are entitled to seek asylum. The border is the center of the river. All that talk of the wall is not a solution. Look at the meandering river, the wall is not a solution.”

We are trying to handle it.