EL PASO, Texas (El Paso Matters) — About 600 migrants have been released to the streets of El Paso by border enforcement agents since Friday as federal holding facilities and nonprofit shelters are again bursting at the seams.
“The decision to provisionally release migrants was determined after exhausting all other decompression options for the custody of migrants found in our sector,” El Paso Border Patrol officials said Monday in a statement.
The El Paso Sector has averaged more than 1,650 migrant encounters daily and has about 3,660 migrants in holding at its Central Processing Center and overflow area, the statement said.
The street releases come after city leaders shut down migrant busing operations on Oct. 20 – and now say they won’t resume them unless they have secured federal funding.
“We are going to need to see some approval or advanced funding before we start any other operations,” Deputy City Manager Mario D’Agostino said during an update on the migrant influx to City Council on Monday.
D’Agostino told El Paso Matters that the city has requested $3 million in advanced funding to stand up a processing center for 30 days. But the city would only work to help transport migrants who can pay for their own travel to reach their next destination. The city will no longer pay for migrants’ travel, he said.
The city estimates it has spent more than $9.5 million to shelter and transport migrants so far this calendar year and is pending federal reimbursement of nearly $7.3 million of that.
“We are not looking to get in the transportation business again,” Mayor Oscar Leeser said at the council meeting.
The county’s Migrant Support Services Center that helps transport migrants out of the region opened on Oct. 10 and has been receiving up to 300 migrants per day, said communications manager Laura Gallegos. The center, being run by a contracted emergency shelter provider, will scale up to 400 migrants a day by next week and up to 500 within three weeks, Gallegos said.
The county’s center only accepts single adults with funds to get to their next destination. As of Friday, the county’s center had processed more than 3,800 migrants.
Those released to the streets the past few days were single adults mostly from Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador and Nicaragua, Border Patrol officials said.
“My parents were kidnapped and killed about 20 years ago, and over the years I’ve lost family to the guerrillas. Lately, the violence has escalated and it’s scarier than ever,” a tearful Maria said after being dropped off in front of the Tornado bus station on Paisano Drive Monday afternoon. She left Colombia a month ago and arrived at the El Paso-Juárez border late last week.
Maria cried as she held her 7-month-old grandson and hugged her daughter, Angie, who had been released to a church shelter on Sunday. They reunited outside the bus station.
“We’re waiting for my husband to be released,” Maria said. “We think we’re just going to find a warm corner and sleep here tonight.”
El Paso Matters doesn’t identify migrants seeking asylum by their full names as many are fleeing persecution and fear for their safety.
El Paso has seen an influx of migrants over the past year, most notably from August to early October when Venezuelans who didn’t typically have money or families to get to their desired destination arrived by the thousands. That also led to migrants being released to the streets by the hundreds before the city began busing them out of the region.
The Biden administration in mid-October implemented a shift in policy that allowed U.S. immigration officers to return Venezuelan migrants to Mexico if they crossed into the country between ports of entry, pushing back the humanitarian crisis across the border.
“We are in a better position than we were a few weeks ago,” Senior Deputy City Manager Tracey Jerome told the City Council on Monday. “Things have stabilized to a degree but this is an ongoing crisis and our work, our efforts to support and provide a humane response to this crisis continue. … We want to make clear that we are not done, we’re just in a differ phase right now.”
Late last week, Annunciation House founder Ruben Garcia bused more than 50 migrants from El Paso to a non-denominational church in Denver and said at least three more charters to partner churches outside of El Paso were being planned.
Migrants who have been processed and allowed to remain in the United States while they await their immigration hearings are released to the streets when Border Patrol holding facilities and area shelters such as Annunciation House are at capacity. Migrants can only be held in federal custody for a limited amount of time.
Several migrants outside the Tornado bus station late Monday said they had the means to travel – some looking to get to the airport and unsure why they were dropped off at the bus station. Others, however, said they hadn’t secured the funds to travel and weren’t sure what they would do next.
“I don’t have any money in my pocket so I’m hoping to find a shelter until I figure something out,” said Joel, who came from Nicaragua and is looking to get to Chicago. “I don’t know what the nights are like here. Is it cold here?”