EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Border agents are using a new, massive soft-sided facility in Northeast El Paso to process thousands of migrants apprehended throughout the Southwestern United States.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection erected the 360,000 square-foot tents this spring in response to a historical increase in migration through the El Paso-Juarez-New Mexico corridor. That’s when the volume of encounters averaged more than 1,500 people per day at times. CBP also relied heavily on “decompression” flights, sending to South Texas and to California some of the foreign nationals surrendering at the border wall.

But migrant apprehensions here are down more than 60%, and the El Paso Sector is now receiving daily migrant flights from Tucson, Arizona, and Del Rio, Texas, federal officials told Border Report.

“We are getting lateral flights from other parts of the border for processing here in El Paso,” said U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas. “It’s important to recognize that the flow of people has not stopped south of us. While El Paso and other communities are seeing more manageable flows, there are still tens of thousands of people traveling through the (Panama) Darien Gap and attempting to make their way (north).”

Border Patrol sectors like Del Rio and Rio Grande Valley in May surpassed El Paso in migrant apprehensions, CBP data shows. Those sectors are now looking to El Paso for help just like El Paso looked to them a few months ago.

That explains why the migrant population at El Paso processing centers is at 2,600 right now despite the lower number of daily apprehensions locally, federal officials said.

“El Paso County and El Paso Sector have been at the forefront of this border crisis for three years or even longer if you look back. While El Paso may only have 400 to 500 (migrant encounters), they’re having 800 to 1,000 in Del Rio,” said U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas, whose congressional district extends from Far East El Paso to Del Rio. “Tucson is also 800 to 1,000, so they’re flying everyone to El Paso through decompression flights. […] There is never a day off for the El Paso Sector.”

CBP’s May operational update shows the Rio Grande Valley displaced El Paso as the epicenter of irregular migration on the southern border. El Paso recorded 26,067 migrant encounters in May, trailing Del Rio (29,941), Tucson (30,087) and Rio Grande Valley (36,189).

U.S. Border Patrol officials acknowledge that encounters — the surrender of asylum-seekers plus the apprehension of economic migrants trying to avoid capture — are down in El Paso since mid-May. But they said the situation could change at any time.

“The El Paso Sector fiscal year 2023 migrant encounters through May are 334,283, which leads the nation. Since June, our daily average encounters is 438 a day,” the Border Patrol said in a statement. Despite the decrease in numbers, the El Paso Sector remains prepared in case we experience another migrant influx.”

Gonzales and Escobar said migrant arrivals at the U.S. border will continue to go up and down unless Congress steps in.

Escobar is pushing for a comprehensive package known as The Dignity Act of 2023 that would legalize millions of undocumented immigrants already in the country and expand legal immigration avenues. That will keep migrants from risking their lives coming in between ports of entry or trying to get past highway checkpoints hidden in the back of sweltering trailer trucks, she said.

Gonzales, aware of the deep political divisions in Washington, D.C., is proposing a more pragmatic approach.

“There’s a lot of people that have gone down this route of immigration reform and a lot of people view it in a holistic manner. I am of the mindset of not what I want, but what can we get accomplished in the 118th Congress?” Gonzales told Border Report. “In my eyes, you start with work visas. I’ve got a piece of legislation that I’m working on, we’ll roll this out in the coming weeks.”

Gonzales proposes linking foreign nationals who want to come work in the United States with employers in sectors that have unfilled jobs. That contrasts with letting people in and leaving them to their own devices to find jobs or have a relative or sponsor say they’ll take care of them.

“It’s about streamlining it (the work visa program), vetting people so we know who’s coming into our country, so we don’t have people who are unvetted and also link them up with employers that have these vacancies,” Gonzales said.