EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The City of El Paso will be getting $6 million in advanced new funding for migrant services and the county another $1.38 million in early 2023, U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar said Thursday.
That’s in addition to an earlier $2 million advance and approved reimbursements totaling $3.7 million for the city, and $6 million in up-front funding so the county can operate a migrant services assistance center, the congresswoman said.
The announcement comes as El Paso shelters are full, U.S. Customs and Border Protection holding facilities are overcrowded and migrants – both asylum seekers turning themselves to border agents at the Rio Grande as well as those trying to evade apprehension west and east of the city – continue to come across the border by the thousands.
The City of El Paso has spent $9.52 million on migrants passing through the city since Jan. 1. Pledges aside, as of Thursday morning the city had only received $2.2 million actual dollars from the federal government.
Deputy City Manager Mario D’Agostino on Thursday said the fresh $6 million could be used for transporting migrants out of El Paso, feeding them and housing them overnight if the numbers further rise when the Biden administration stops expelling some migrants under the Title 42 public health order set to expire on December 21.
“(Migrants) are passing through. This is the path into the country; just talking to them they’re not wanting to say in this region,” D’Agostino said at a news conference in City Hall. “The airport has limited (flights), the buses have limited seats. We look at these high numbers and Title 42 going away, we see the caravans that arrived to Juarez (Mexico) last weekend – a lot of people waiting to come through. We process them here and get their travel arrangements to a bigger hub whether it’s Dallas, Denver or Phoenix.”
The city in September and early October spent millions of dollars housing, feeding and busing migrants – most of them unsponsored Venezuelan nationals – out of town. With the cold temperatures of the last few nights, the city is taking asylum seekers released by border agents on the streets to hotels. As of Thursday, if migrants are still sleeping on the streets it is by choice, city officials said. Nonetheless, the city may again get involved in housing and busing migrants if Title 42 goes away as scheduled.
“Today we have a lot of people that are sponsored that have their own money. If dynamics change, then our responsibilities will continue to change,” Mayor Oscar Leeser said. “We need to be prepared.”
Leeser says federal immigration officials are telling him they’re apprehending an average of 2,500 migrants per day in the El Paso Sector. That’s a record 75,000 encounters per month. When Title 42 – which is keeping several nationalities including Mexicans and Guatemalans from staying in the country – up to 150,000 migrants could be coming into El Paso every month, he said.
Leeser said he’s still not going to declare a state of emergency that would make El Paso eligible for state aid because federal funding is coming and some Texas lawmakers are trying to identify additional resources.
But City Councilwoman Claudia Lizette Rodriguez says El Paso likely will spend many more millions on migrants in coming months, so the mayor and County Judge Ricardo Samaniego must declare a state of emergency.
“Our general fund is being depleted by the day. We continue to ask El Paso taxpayers to foot the bill for the influx of migrants and it simply isn’t fair. Mayor Leeser and Judge Samaniego, do the right thing and declare!” she said in a statement on Thursday.
Funding is ‘band aid’ to crisis that requires changes to the law, border officials say
City officials said they are grateful for the federal government’s pledges of additional funding, but warned that a more comprehensive, long-term solution is needed to manage the mass movement of people across the U.S. border.
“We have a crisis on our hands […] and one of the things we’ve been saying from the beginning is this is bigger than El Paso and now it’s even become bigger than the United States. It has become a worldwide concern,” Leeser said. “This funding and sheltering is not the answer; it’s a band aid to a bigger problem. … You’re not going to fund yourself out of this. You’re not going to house yourself out of this.”
Along those lines, other local officials are calling on the federal government for more money, more boots on the ground and an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws.
“Since March, the Texas Border Coalition has urged the Biden administration to adopt an ‘all hands-on-deck’ approach to manage the border, including the deployment of all available officers to southwest land ports of entry, trainees, asylum officers, volunteers and processing personnel,” said El Paso County Commissioner and TBC Chairman David Stout. “(This) must include sufficient coordination and funding for humanitarian organizations and local governments to prevent the release of migrant populations into border communities not equipped to handle a sudden influx.”
The coalition of local governments also is urging Congress to approve billions in additional funding for CBP border processing, transportation, detention and removal, and for emergency food and shelter grants.
“By acting now, the administration can help sustain border communities,” Stout said. “We must recognize migrants are not an existential threat. America is a nation of immigrants. …. These recommendations will help us build a system that maintains public safety while welcoming those who are coming to contribute to America.”