Christmas Eve was not a "silent night" in El Paso, Texas. Hundreds of migrant families were unexpectedly dropped off by ICE officials at a Greyhound bus station, a move that left volunteers working late into the night, finding hotels and shelters for the displaced families.
But the commotion didn't stop two hotel employees from organizing a gift-filled Christmas morning for the migrant children, said Ruben Garcia, the director of Annunciation House, a shelter for migrants, during a press conference on Thursday. He said the workers' kindness should be a model for elected officials everywhere.
Annunciation House typically works with ICE officials to find temporary housing for migrant families. But the dropping off of hundreds of migrants in the days leading up to Christmas came as a surprise, and Garcia had to scramble to find lodging.
When one hotel that Garcia had never worked with before said they had between 30 and 40 rooms available, he quickly booked them all. But inside, he was anxious.
Garcia said that Monday's group were virtually all Central Americans, most of whom were "very poor" and "very humble people."
"In the back of my mind I'm very aware of the fact that they have no idea what I'm talking about," Garcia said during the press conference. "They think they have idea — they have no idea what the population is."
But the migrants' reception was better than Garcia could have ever anticipated. At around seven or eight in the evening as the immigrants were being checked in, two of the hotel's front desk employees called their husbands, telling them to go to any store that might still be open and to "buy every coloring book, every little truck, simple little gifts, buy them all."
By the time the families woke up in the morning, the employees and their husbands had wrapped all the gifts and placed them under the tree for the children, Garcia said.
"On Christmas Day they had all of these gifts for children who never, ever, ever in their life experienced a Christmas where they received a gift," he said.
When asked why, the employees "had tears coming down" and said "how could you not do this," Garcia said.
Garcia said others in the community have been active in helping his group house and feed the unexpected group of Central Americans. Texas Representative Beto O'Rourke, who's thought to be flirting with a 2020 presidential run, served meals on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, according to Garcia. The town's mayor, Dee Margo, and his family regularly help serve meals at the city's various migrant shelters, Garcia said.
"It's so important for elected officials to make time to come and help serve meals in one of our hospitality sites," Garcia said.