LAREDO, Texas (Border Report) — When the COVID-19 crisis struck this South Texas border town last summer, city officials said they tried to hold on as they watched small businesses pack up and their international bridge traffic dry up.
But now, as they brace for a wave of undocumented migrants who are being sent to the area from the Rio Grande Valley, city leaders say “ya basta” (enough.) And they told Border Report that they desperately need the federal government to step up and help to reimburse expenses because their coffers are rapidly depleting.
“The city is tapped out (financially),” Laredo City Manager Robert Eads told Border Report on Friday as he waited for U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, to begin a roundtable discussion at Texas A&M International University, which drew 25 leaders from various border cities to air their gripes and concerns.
“Hope doesn’t pay the bills,” Eads said reflecting how slow FEMA was to reimburse border cities when previous immigration waves began coming in 2014, 2015 and 2019.
Officials with the Department of Homeland Security announced they would be sending apprehended migrants to Laredo and El Paso, and extended that to Austin, San Antonio and Dallas after thousands started surging the banks of the Rio Grande near McAllen and Mission. Thousands are held at a tent holding facility in Donna, Texas.
Eads said the city’s bridge fund lost $12 million from March 2020 to present. And as long as Title 42 travel restrictions remain — to limit the flow of people between the United States and Mexico to limit the spread of coronavirus — then he says he doesn’t see the money being replenished.
Altogether, the city’s deficit is $50 million, Eads said. “We’ve seen this movie already. It’s just for us a humanitarian effort. We want to help however we can but with the extent of what the cost of all things COVID, we’re tapped out.”
“We’re tapped out.”Laredo, Texas, City Manager Robert Eads
Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz told Border Report they are concerned about paying for basic city services going forward, like police officers and firefighters.
During the 90-minute roundtable discussion, where Saenz sat beside mayors from the border towns of Eagle Pass and Del Rio, he told Cornyn and Cuellar that they’re frustrated trying to cover costs for policies that Washington, D.C., decides with often little regard for border communities.
“Looking at it from the lens of the mayor of a city, I can say that we’re the recipients of Washington’s policies,” Saenz said. “Ultimately, Washington gets what they want based on policies, and I recognize that, but when policies are instituted or changed and they place a city or local community at a disadvantage financially, then we can use resources to help and accommodate.”
“Don’t expect the city to act like the fed government,” Saenz said.
Cornyn likely feels he has more to hear from communities because on Monday he announced that he is returning to South Texas on March 26, and this time with fellow Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, of Texas, and they plan to hold a roundtable discussion with leaders of the Rio Grande Valley.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.