EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – El Paso County Commissioners as early as Monday could begin moving toward signing a lease and awarding a bid for a Migrant Support Services Center to help with the release of paroled migrants onto the streets of El Paso.
County Judge Ricardo Samaniego wanted to utilize buildings on the grounds of the El Paso County Coliseum, but events slated to take place there next week and legal glitches regarding talks with the owners of other sites put that on hold.
“There’s been a lot of work in the Migrant Support Services Center and what we’d like to do is move quickly on that and the place we will be utilizing,” Samaniego said at a Thursday special meeting of Commissioners Court. “The other options of the Coliseum and all that need more vetting to know the cost, the legal complications and everything involved in that.”
Samaniego wants the county to move swiftly to ease the overcrowding at nonprofit shelters and at the U.S. Border Patrol Central Processing Center that has led to the release of more than 1,100 migrants onto the streets of El Paso in just a few days. Border agents on Wednesday resorted to processing hundreds of migrants – mostly Venezuelans – a few feet from the Rio Grande in buses equipped with computers hooked up to secure servers.
The county’s proposed center would allow for at least some of that processing to take place away from the river and away from Downtown El Paso, where residents of the Chihuahuita neighborhood have begun to complain about the crowds near the border, according to Samaniego.
“We want to take appropriate action regarding the migrant response. We are accumulating 300 to 400 migrants a day and we don’t want to be where Del Rio was,” Samaniego said at Thursday’s meeting. (But) “we need to understand clearly what we need to do, and we’ll be looking at that on Monday.”
Chief County Administrator Betsy C. Keller said the county’s proposed center would not be a shelter, but a place where individuals who already have sponsors or means to travel out of El Paso would be brought in for a quick “turnaround” to connect them with their transportation. However, officials also discussed the option of providing a place away from the border to allow federal immigration officials to quickly process migrants likely to be exempt from expulsion. They also mentioned readiness to bring in sleeping cots for the locale, if needed.
“Based on the information we have presented to the court today and the evolving situation, at this point what we will bring back on Monday to the court to consider for action is awarding a bid for a processing center operator and a lease for a processing center,” Keller said. “And, depending on whether we have a commitment letter from FEMA, if it’s not available we recommend the use of Economic Impact funds to set up this operation, which we will submit for reimbursement from FEMA.”
She said up to $2 million in Economic Impact funds could be needed to get the project off the ground.
Samaniego said the county is focusing on a migrant services center while the City of El Paso remains focused on “transportation, transportation, transportation.”
El Paso resident Barbara Carrasco, during the public comment period, questioned the county’s use of public resources to assist migrants who entered the country without authorization to reach their destination of choice.
“We need to think outside the box if we want to save taxpayers’ dollars,” she said, listing several out-of-state nonprofits that have received millions in federal aid to house and provide for migrants.
Carrasco, a former Republican congressional candidate, warned that the migrant crisis will not abate “as long as there is open borders.”
“I’m hoping you will look into other options before you sign a contract,” she told commissioners. “We need to focus on what’s happening in our country first, then we need to think about what we are going to do about incoming immigrants. Enforce the laws right now and if we don’t like the laws, Congress can change them rather than open the doors and let everybody in and cause a tsunami of individuals coming to our country .”
A KTSM/Border Report camera crew on Thursday witnessed how dozens of migrants, mostly Venezuelans, crossed the Rio Grande west of the Paso del Norte International Bridge and turned themselves over to U.S. immigration authorities. Soldiers on the Mexican side of the river made no attempt to question or stop them.