EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – A divided City Council has given staff approval to earmark an additional $2 million for future migrant busing expenses, even though it has closed its welcoming center and sent off its last charter bus on Oct. 20.

The city has spent $6,095,000 on charter buses and a total of $8.86 million since January on migrant services ranging from food to emergency hotel stays. The city is asking the federal government for reimbursements and has received a $2 million advance pending itemized approvals.

“We’re at the point that unsponsored (migrants) have dropped so low that we made the decision to close,” Deputy City Manager Mario D’Agostino told the council on Tuesday. “Title 42 is what changed this [….] We are planning for when Title 42 goes away. This crisis that we saw right now is the tip of the iceberg if Title 42 goes away.”

El Paso opened its migrant center on Sept. 7 and awarded charter bus contracts after federal immigration authorities began releasing thousands of unsponsored migrants on parole. The city received 19,000 migrants at the center during its 44 days of operation and paid for 294 charter buses headed for New York City and Chicago.

Graphic courtesy City of El Paso, Texas.

The releases have dropped dramatically since the Biden administration on Oct. 12 made Venezuelans who cross the border illegally amenable to Title 42 expulsions and set up a remote application program to admit up to 24,000 asylum-seekers from that South American country.  

The Title 42 expulsions are not only decreasing the population at U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s processing facility – overcrowding led to a high number of community releases – but also appear to be discouraging more Venezuelans from coming to the border.

Mexican federal officials are telling Border Report the number of Venezuelans arriving daily in border cities like Juarez and Tijuana has dropped from 1,500 two weeks ago to fewer than 150. El Paso officials said they’re being told by CBP that the number of daily migrant apprehensions in the region have come down from 2,071 three weeks ago to 1,190 now.

The City of El Paso’s migrant dashboard as of Wednesday (City of El Paso)

But Title 42 is politically controversial – the Biden administration was set to end it last May before a federal judge prevented him from doing so – and city officials worry about the future of this fail-safe after the November mid-term elections.

“If (Title 42 is no more), we may see numbers that may make this seem as small-scale. We want to be prepared for that … we are going to try to get upfront funding for any future operation,” D’Agostino told the council. He said the city in September asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a $10 million advance for future migrant expenses.

Venezuelan migrants wait to be processed at the U.S. Border Patrol’s West Bridge temporary facility in El Paso, Texas, earlier this month. (Julian Resendiz/Border Report)

“That $2 million is not going to be used. If for some reason we need the funds, they will already be approved. If we do continue to need it, we will have the room to do it,” Mayor Oscar Leeser said.

The council approved the additional potential expenses by a 5-2 margin.

City Manager Tommy Gonzalez said city employees would continue to be embedded in migrant nonprofit agencies short on volunteers since the COVID-19 crisis. “If they fail, this whole thing fails. That’s why it is important that we embed people in their operations. We still have ongoing costs. Though the transports are done, there’s still migrants crossing … the change in trajectory is changing the costs.”

Leeser on Tuesday recognized city staff for their work during the migrant crisis, which he characterized as unavoidable once CBP began releasing migrants onto El Paso streets.

“I think we took a humanitarian crisis and made it a manageable crisis,” Leeser said. “We cannot forget what happened because as (D’Agostino) said, we don’t know what’s coming behind it and we need to be prepared.”