County judge says key stakeholders already talking to prevent humanitarian crisis, hopes declaration will lead to federal funding
EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego and Mayor Oscar Leeser are getting ready to issue emergency declarations as the number of migrant apprehensions continues to climb and the end of Title 42 looms.
“(It’s) not necessarily because of inability to handle it – I don’t want anyone to believe it’s based on that – but so we are able to obtain funding that is necessary to continue a very humanitarian focus,” Samaniego said Thursday at a special meeting of County Commissioners Court.
Samaniego said the orders – the city and county will issue separate declarations – will allow each entity to solicit money now from the Federal Emergency Management Administration.
“Worst-case scenario we would have to find a large place to address that issue instead of having it throughout the community,” he said.
Samaniego and Leeser could issue the declarations as early as Thursday. Assistant County Attorney Christina Sanchez said the judge has authority under state law to issue an emergency declaration at “a moment’s notice,” but that the County Commission would have to approve at its next meeting or it would expire.
The same applies to the city, where Leeser can sign an order today and the City Council would review next week. The item is already listed on Monday’s council work session agenda.
Planning for a migrant emergency in El Paso has been ongoing since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that on May 23 they would be lifting Title 42. That’s the public health order that has allowed border agents to quickly expel newly arrived migrants since March 2020 to stem cross-border COVID-19 transmission.
Republican governors have sued to stop the end of Title 42, saying it’s the last line of defense to contain a historic wave of irregular migration. A judge has issued a temporary order to stop the end of Title 42, but the migrant surge has only kept swelling.
Samaniego said the U.S. Border Patrol reported 1,500 apprehensions in the El Paso Sector two days ago. And last Sunday, immigration facilities and nonprofit shelters in the city were so overwhelmed that border agents had to release 119 migrants at a Downtown El Paso bus station.
“Yesterday, we met with 150 agents at the command center. The strategy is ‘what if’ and how do we address it. Right now, the low-hanging fruit is we need a processing center … (help) the 35 percent of the people (released by immigration officers) so they can get their tickets and move on. We’re combining that with shelter” space, he said.
Just a day earlier, the head of the largest migrant shelter network in El Paso and Southern New Mexico called on local officials and the federal government for help. Ruben Garcia of Annunciation House says he’s low on volunteers and wants the city and county to take over his largest shelter, so his staff can operate church-run shelters more days of the week and receive more migrants.
Annunciation House has received 4,400 migrants released by border agents in the past 10 days. And that’s with Title 42 still in place.
On Thursday, city staff asked Leeser to sign an emergency declaration to obtain needed state and federal money ahead of the termination of Title 42.
The Office of Emergency Management and city officials “have been looking to identify possible sites that non-government organizations, state and federal partners can utilize and that the city and OEM can augment,” the city said in a statement.
City officials characterized the migrant situation as “fluid” and said they continue to monitor it and plan their response accordingly.
“We are extremely grateful to all our partners including the NGOs, the county, state and federal leaders who understand the extraordinary collaborative lift that is needed,” said Deputy City Manager Mario D’Agostino.