City of El Paso seeks federal assistance as it prepares for possible ‘migrant surge’ amid pandemic


EL PASO, Texas (KTSM)–The City of El Paso said it was working with federal partners to prepare for a possible migrant surge during the COVID-19 pandemic.

City officials announced Wednesday evening the Office of Emergency Management was coordinating with local nonprofit organizations, community groups and federal immigration enforcement agencies to prepare for a possible migrant surge.

President Joe Biden signed several executive orders on his first day as president, some rolling back on Trump administration immigration policies, including a 100-day moratorium on deportations of some undocumented immigrants and the suspension of the ‘Remain in Mexico’ program.

KTSM asked the Office of Emergency Management if they had a plan to test and/or vaccinate asylum seekers if they were allowed back into the United States.

Office of Emergency Management Deputy Chief Jorge Rodriguez said they had to ensure at the federal level resources were in place to manage not just a large influx similar to what El Paso saw in 2019, coupled with the concerns of COVID-19.

EL PASO, TX – JUNE 24: Migrant parents, all of whom were separated from their children by U.S Customs and Border Patrol, arrive at the Annunciation House migrant shelter after being released from U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody on June 24, 2018 in El Paso, Texas. The 32 parents that arrived had faced charges for illegal entry into the United States and will continue with the legal process as they wait to be reunited with their children. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

“We are waiting to see if there’s going to be a federal response to assist with testing or if there’s a formalized plan for vaccinations. It’s important to understand that the migration pattern and the way that these individuals once they come into our community, they’re usually in El Paso for 48-72 hours.”

However, some immigration advocacy groups say a surge similar to those in 2019 is not expected.

“I would definitely push against the idea that there’s a ‘surge’ of people who are coming, that’s just not the reality of what we’re seeing,” said Brooke Bischoff, the managing attorney at the El Paso-based Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center said.

Bischoff said the word “surge” can lead people to imagine groups so large that would overwhelm the ports-of-entry when she said that may not be the case.

“Not only are we just not seeing those huge numbers, but even if we were to see an increase, there’s no reason that would need to lead to any additional sort of enforcement, we have the capability to process them through our regular asylum system,” Bischoff said.

El Paso Fire Chief Mario D’Agostino echoed Bischoff on the topic. He added the City wanted to put resources where they will be needed to avoid situations like federal agencies releasing migrants as bus depots in Downtown El Paso in 2019.

“We want to have that streamline process where we can get them in, we can assist the non-profits and non-government organizations with registering them in, getting them out, assisting them with the communication needs so they can reach out to their sponsor or their loved ones from around the country so they can get their transportation issues solved so they can be moved,” D’Agostino said.

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