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Hundreds Of Migrants From Central Africa Cross Southern U.S. Border To Seek Asylum


The vast majority of migrants coming to the U.S.-Mexico border are from Central America - Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador. But along with some are hundreds of Africans. Many of them are seeking asylum after seeing others recently gain entry to the U.S. We're going to follow some of these African migrants who have just arrived in the U.S. We start with Bonnie Petrie of Texas Public Radio and her report from San Antonio.

BONNIE PETRIE, BYLINE: Once these migrants cross the border, they pile into white vans. The shuttles drop the travelling families off on a busy street corner in downtown San Antonio outside the city's migrant service center. When migrants started arriving at the center from places like the Congos and Angola, it didn't take city workers long to figure out they needed translators.

PETER STRANGES: So we're down here working with the city right now at their release center helping purchase bus tickets. And we brought down a lot of staff who either speak Swahili or French to help with language needs.

PETRIE: Peter Stranges works for Catholic Charities in San Antonio. Usually he's more of a desk guy, a vice president who rarely interacts with the immigrants they serve. But he also speaks French, so he's outside the city's migrant service center talking to a cluster of serious young men and a woman with a sleeping baby strapped to her back.

STRANGES: So they're getting here. A lot of them don't even know what city they're in when they arrive. They're also hungry, and they're tired. And they're thirsty. So we're just helping them reach out and get in contact with sponsors who may be able to help them on the other end of their journeys.

MICHELE: My name is Michele. I'm from Congo. I'm here in Texas, San Antonio.

PETRIE: Michele was one of the few migrants who did speak English. He didn't give us his last name. He and his wife and three children are from Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. And Michele says they had to leave.

MICHELE: Because in Congo, the life is not good. The political situation is not good. And I came here. I think here, I have a good life.

PETRIE: Michele and his family fled political strife and civil unrest in the DRC. In January, they flew to South America and started trekking north, crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in the Del Rio sector of Texas. Border Patrol agents in that sector recently took more than 500 African migrants into custody in just one week.

RANDY CAPPS: I think the migrant crisis at the U.S. border has been so well publicized. And because of all of the chaos over policymaking in Washington, D.C., it all gives the appearance that the U.S. border is really open for business right now.

PETRIE: Randy Capps is a researcher at the Migration Policy Institute. He says Central African migrants are also drawn to the U.S. because Europe is not so open for business and because the boat trip across the Mediterranean can be treacherous. In fact, Capps says, many Central Africans don't even make it to the sea. They're at refugee camps in North Africa.

CAPPS: Many of them are stuck and languishing in really poor conditions, some in near slave conditions in Libya right now. So, you know, when conditions at home are desperate and the Europe option doesn't look good, the sort of high-price long-distance option to try to come to the U.S. might be worth it.

PETRIE: First they fly to South America. And when they get there, they find well-traveled roads to follow north.

CAPPS: That journey through Central America and Mexico has been facilitated by these large migrant caravans, by more sophisticated and faster smuggling routes. And it's an easier journey from, say, Guatemala onward than it has been in the past.

PETRIE: Capps says you can expect more migrants from all over the world to seek asylum here unless Mexico does more to stop them. President Trump has given Mexico 45 days to act.

MICHELE: (Speaking French). Thank you.


PETRIE: For NPR News, I'm Bonnie Petrie in San Antonio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bonnie Petrie is a proud new member of the news team at WUWM. She is a reporter who - over her twenty year career - has been honored by both the Texas an New York Associated Press Broadcasters, as well as the Radio, Television and Digital News Association, for her reporting, anchoring, special series production and use of sound.