An Iranian couple fleeing religious persecution, a Venezuelan mother escaping political violence, and an Ecuadorean family who just want a better life: these are just some of the migrants being temporarily housed in a pair of California hotels for nearly $500,000 a month.
DailyMail.com was given exclusive access to the two properties in El Centro which sits in a remote border sector so overwhelmed by illegal crossings that the local detention center can no longer hold them all.
As part of a scheme funded by the State of California and FEMA, 100 rooms have been reserved at the Ramada at $90 per night, and another 90 were booked at the Travelodge at $71 per night, to take in asylum seekers.
Unlike a similar scheme in Arizona and Texas – which involves five hotels run by ICE at a cost of $89million – the Californian shelters are being managed by staff from Catholic Charities San Diego, aided by the Department of Social Services.
Case manager Alberto Dilla, 31, from El Centro, explained: ‘Every day, we get an email from Border Patrol telling us how many people they’re bringing.
‘The van comes to the Ramada and they have Covid tests. Anyone who is positive stays to quarantine there for 10 days.
‘Everyone else gets taken to the Travelodge where we give them food, a place to sleep and arrange travel for them to wherever they want to go.’
Shelter manager Cassandra Castro, 35, from Calexico, added: ‘We just try to make sure they have everything they need before they go on to their final destination.’
The hotel shelters have been up and running for three weeks. Arriving families are provided with a pack containing basic hygiene items such as toothpaste and shampoo, as well as cartons containing lunch and dinner – prepared for them by a local branch of Denny’s.
Larger families are given double queen rooms, while couples and single parents with children are given rooms with king beds.
Staff also help the asylum seekers with their travel plans: the charity operates daily shuttles to Yuma and San Diego airports and funds the onward journeys itself or via a partner called Miles4Migrants which uses donated airmiles to book flights.
As a result, most of the families stay for 48 hours or less.
Many arrive with nothing and all have their shoelaces removed while detained so the charity also provides clothes and toys – all sourced via donations.
So far, 712 migrants have passed through the hotels according to Catholic Charities San Diego CEO Vino Pajanor, while up to 48 newcomers arrive each day.
A formerly quiet 70-mile section of the border, the El Centro sector saw 21,759 single adults in March alone, along with 939 families and 1,047 unaccompanied minors – increases of 119 per cent, 18 per cent and 46 per cent on the same month in 2020.
As a result, the Imperial County Detention Center can no longer handle the influx -with some of the asylum seekers telling DailyMail.com they had been placed in cells meant for 30 people that are now holding 70.
Single men and women are expelled immediately under Title 42, but President Biden’s announcement in January that families would be released into the US instead has contributed to the surge.
Venezuelan Yorevelis Garcia, 35, a single mother to nine-year-old daughter Mya, said her Boston-based cousin had told her to pack her bags after hearing from coyote traffickers that Title 42 is over.
‘My cousin [in Boston] called me a few days ago and said the coyotes [traffickers] are saying Title 42 is over and it’s time to come,’ she told DailyMail.com.
‘She said now is the time so I grabbed a backpack and my daughter and came to the border.’
The mom-of-one told how her cousin paid coyotes $2,300 to get her across the border. First, she was driven in a van filled with 28 people to a remote spot.
Traffickers then cut away a section of the border fence using a metal cutter and the group embarked on a waterless trek through the desert until Border Patrol found them.
She tearfully recounted how she had been forced to flee Venezuela in 2018 after violence broke out over the contested election of President Nicholas Maduro.
An opposition supporter, she was badly beaten by a gang of government thugs who burned her on the arms and legs with lit cigarettes and threatened to have her killed.
With Mya, she traveled first to Peru and then on to Chile and Colombia before arriving in Mexico where she made ends meet by working a $50-a-week job in a taco shop.
Yorevelis said she had twice tried to claim asylum at the US border – talking to guards in Nogales and Mexicali, only to be turned back.
This time, she is more hopeful. Yorevelis said: ‘It’s been years since I saw my cousin so I’m very excited.
‘I know this is a long process and I could still be deported but I hope I will get asylum and a good education for my daughter.’
Others told DailyMail.com that the dangerous journey had been a last resort.
Graphic designer, ‘K’, 42, asked not to be named for fear of attracting attention from the Iranian authorities.
He told how he paid $35,000 to people smugglers to get him and his 40-year-old pregnant wife to the US after years of religious persecution and beatings meted out by regime heavies.
A Christian convert, he said his life in Tehran involved constant death threats and intimidation and that two years ago, he and his wife lost their first unborn child after she was beaten up by police thugs while pregnant.
Their month-long journey to the US included using fake passports to fly to Istanbul and then on to Mexico City where they caught an internal flight to Mexicali.
Coyote guides then brought them through the desert to the border fence – after climbing over and hiking for miles, they were picked up by Border Patrol.
K, who was traveling to Los Angeles to join his uncle, said: ‘Everyone here has been very kind to us. It was too dangerous to stay in Iran. I couldn’t bear to lose another child so I hope we will be able to have a life here.’
Like K, most of the men are given GPS ankle tags before being released so authorities can keep tabs on them and ensure they make their court date.
Also tagged was Carlos Jerez, 29, a construction worker from Ecuador who had paid $9,500 to cross the border with his wife Jessica Guzman, 27, and daughters Nicole, nine, and Kayla, six.
She said the family faced constant discrimination due to her disability and are hoping for a new life in New York where they will be able to get a good education for the two girls.
The 27-year-old said she is grateful for the help the family has received so far and thought it boded well for their new life.
She said: ‘I never expected that we would be treated so kindly and get so much help – I am completely grateful and thankful to God because we wouldn’t have got all this without Him.
All of this is for my children. I hope that in New York, my husband will be able to get a good job and my daughters will be able to go to school again.’