EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The City of El Paso on Friday gave the nod to a 30-day humanitarian disaster declaration giving it the flexibility to set up additional shelters even as it struggles to get migrants off the streets amid freezing temperatures.
“It’s been an all-out effort with faith-based groups and NGOs to get them to shelter,” Deputy City Manager Mario D’Agostino said. “These people had a long journey just to get to El Paso. They have been abused, taken advantage of, paid fees and they don’t trust anyone. We cannot force anybody to go where they don’t want to go but we’re trying our darndest, particularly when you have a 5-degree windchill factor.”
City officials have gone as far as to park two empty buses near migrants gathered in Downtown sidewalks, hoping they will get in when no one is looking and protect themselves from the cold.
The emergency comes as the city prepares for further and possibly massive migrant releases once border agents can no longer use the Title 42 public health order to expel migrants. The Supreme Court could green-light the end of Title 42 as early as Tuesday.
Council members and residents also debated whether the State of Texas is contributing to alleviate the humanitarian crisis or to politically exploit the moment by placing National Guard troops and concertina wire along the Rio Grande. Similar tactics at the behest of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in South Texas have been heavily criticized by migrant advocates.
“There’s a lot of concern about what has been happening already,” City Rep. Alexandra Annello said. “Also, we have not received from the state what we thought we would receive […] They would not have come down here, their said, if not for our declaration. They’re here and they’re going to stay.”
Speaking during public comment, County Commissioner David Stout said he was concerned about the “militarization” of the border and urged the city to seek accountability.
D’Agostino said the state has provided four buses to transport released migrants to New York City and Chicago. In addition, the Texas Department of Public Safety is helping El Paso Police patrol Downtown areas for the safety of migrants and the public, and is patrolling the Border Highway where migrants, some carrying children, have been spotted running through traffic after coming over the border wall.
Separately, one of the two vacant schools that the El Paso Independent School District made available so the city could house migrants once legal wrangling over the end of the Title 42 public health order concludes is now ready for use and the second should come “online” next week, D’Agostino said.
The city’s Civic Center this week opened its doors to migrants seeking temporary shelter and the American Red Cross is providing sleeping cots and blankets, he said.
The city as of this Saturday had spent $9.87 million on migrant care and services during calendar year 2022 and had been reimbursed $6 million by the federal government. Leeser said the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has notified him of a $4.39 million advance in addition to the $6 million it had committed on December 13. The City is pending the formal award letter and payment.
“There is no easy answer. Everything we are doing is a Band-aid,” Leeser said. “It’s a Band-aid on a broken system that needs to be fixed. […] We are preparing today for the unknown. We know it’s going to get worse before it gets better.”
The council voted unanimously (7-0, with two absences) in favor of the declaration.