BROWNSVILLE, Texas (Border Report) — Team Brownsville volunteer Andrea Rudnik is busy passing out shoelaces and bottled water and getting immigrants to sign a form indicating their country of origin as she hurries them through a line at the nonprofit’s Welcome Center.
Many have buses to catch and other cities to get to, but this is a welcomed pit stop for the 500 immigrants who receive help and assistance here every day.
“We welcome people. We give them supplies,” says Rudnik, a grandmother who has been the volunteer coordinator for this organization since 2019.
She said they never know how many people to expect on any given day.
But if Title 42 is lifted on Dec. 21 — which a federal judge has ordered the Biden administration to do — Rudnik worries Team Brownsville won’t be able to meet the demands as thousands of immigrants are expected to cross the southern border from Mexico.
“From day to day we really don’t know what to expect. With Title 42 dropping we’re told our numbers may increase but we don’t know for sure,” she told Border Report one busy Saturday morning as she hustled about the small facility.
Rudnik told Border Report that the facility can handle about 1,000 migrants. But migrant advocates say that thousands of migrants are amassing across the Rio Grande in the northern Mexican city of Matamoros, sleeping on streets, waiting for the opportunity to cross the border if Title 42 is removed.
Title 42 is the public health law put in place by the Trump administration in March 2020 that has restricted migrants from crossing to claim asylum in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. A federal judge has ordered it lifted by Dec. 21, but the Biden administration has appealed.
The City of Brownsville owns this building, which is across from the city’s downtown bus station. They allow Team Brownsville to operate it “for the purpose of developing a Welcome Center,” Rudnik said.
The Department of Homeland Security releases migrants to the city who assist with their travel and hotel arrangements. The nonprofit Good Neighbor Settlement House also works at the Welcome Center to help migrants.
Border Report was allowed inside the Welcome Center to watch as participants in the Journey for Justice caravan volunteered and assisted migrants during Day 1 of their 16-day tour along the Southwest border.
Rudnik is a no-nonsense type of person. She speaks her mind. And as migrants were unsure which way to go to collect items as they meandered through the narrow shelter, her frustration was evident.
“They just don’t know which way to go. They’re still not getting the system of coming and going that way,” she said pointing to the end of the line and enlisting other volunteers to help.
Her goal is to help as many migrants as possible in a very short time.
Officials with the Department of Homeland Security return for them quickly after they are dropped off by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
In that limited time, she has to corral them through a maze that includes collecting needed shoes, coats, food, snacks and hygiene items like toothbrushes. They also give them a snack.
Abner Arauz, 29, an English teacher from Nicaragua, told Border Report he “had been starving,” prior to getting breakfast.
He was among 200 migrant men and women who came through in waves at the Welcome Center on Saturday morning.
He had been held by ICE for two days after crossing the border illegally from Reynosa, Mexico, into Hidalgo, Texas, where he was apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol agents.
But, like many asylum-seekers, he was legally released into the United States pending his immigration court proceedings.
Now he is headed to Colorado to reunite with his wife who he said was waiting for him there.
He said he was surprised and grateful for the generosity of Team Brownsville.
“The way they are doing this for people that are coming from everywhere just trying to get some help. It’s pretty special. For me, this here, I was not expecting it but I definitely appreciate it,” Arauz told Border Report. “It’s pretty special. Not only for me but for all the people who are here, especially because we didn’t have anything, only the paperwork we were given.”
With their manilla envelopes in hand containing their Notice to Appear paperwork, which requires them to attend all scheduled immigration court hearings and to check in with their ICE officer at their destination location, they filed through the center chatting and laughing.
One man even loudly announced in Spanish to let the ladies go first and then offered them a wave of his hand and a smile.
For someone who had next to nothing, the moment was touching and brought tears to the eyes of some in the room.
Some of the migrants were headed to New York City and Boston, and Rudnik stopped at a special cabinet and grabbed bulky coats, telling them in Spanish how cold those cities are this time of the year.
The migrants seemed not to believe her. Many told Border Report they were from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Haiti, Cuba, and other tropical countries.
Arauz said he and his older sister traveled 25 days in cars and on foot to get to the South Texas border.
“It was pretty hard. Sometimes we actually didn’t eat. We didn’t sleep. See my eyes and face,” he said pointing to his face.
He was especially worried because he had lost contact with his sister that morning. But that evening he reached out to Border Report and said he had connected with his sister who had been released by ICE a day earlier and had been at a local hotel. The pair were headed West together to the Mile High City and to see snow.
“I’m so grateful and happy for that,” he said.
Rudnik says every immigrant has a family somewhere and they want to help them as they settle in a new country and new culture.
“We do our best to meet their needs,” she said.
The organization relies on donations and in-kind gifts, which they promptly pass out to those who pass through their doors.
They also work with other nonprofits in the region to connect migrants with legal aid and medical care.
Rudnik started to elaborate on all they do when another bus pulled up with more migrants.
“There is a group coming right now that we have to attend to so they’re coming in the door right now,” she said rushing away.
Information on how to donate can be found at the Team Brownsville website.