By Mimi Nguyen Ly
The mayor of El Paso declared a state of emergency on Saturday, citing a surge in the numbers of illegal aliens in the city’s streets and an expected influx of more to come across the Southern border as the Title 42 border policy is set to end by Dec. 21.
El Paso is a Democrat stronghold in Texas located on the U.S. border with Mexico. It has a history of welcoming immigrants but struggled in recent months to deal with tens of thousands of illegal aliens crossing the southern border into the United States.
Mayor Oscar Leeser, a Democrat, said the emergency measures will allow the city to have more resources and authority to shelter those who have crossed the southern border, and that this is expected to become more necessary with the Title 42 policy’s ending on Dec. 21, reported the El Paso Times.
He said he was prompted to consider issuing the state of emergency declaration after seeing scores of illegal aliens, who have been released into the city, sleeping in downtown streets in freezing temperatures Friday night. Leeser said he decided to declare a state of emergency after conference calls with federal, state, and municipal officials.
“That’s not the way we want to treat people,” the mayor said during a news conference late Saturday.
“We wanted to make sure people are treated with dignity. We want to make sure everyone is safe,” he also said.
Come Dec. 21, the increase in illegal aliens would be “incredible,” and daily apprehensions and street releases could reach up to 6,000 per day, Leeser told reporters, according to the El Paso Times.
Border agents have encountered an average of more than 2,400 illegal aliens a day in a 268-mile stretch of the border known as the El Paso Sector over the past week, according to figures published by the city. This marks a 40 percent increase compared with October.
El Paso Deputy City Manager Mario D’Agostino said that the emergency declaration means the city will have more help from state law enforcement, more flexibility in operating larger shelters, and more transportation options to send the illegal aliens to other locations.
The city started a busing program in late August amid an increase in illegal alien arrivals. The program sent nearly 14,000 illegal aliens to New York and Chicago. The city said at the time that many Venezuelans were arriving without U.S. sponsors. Leeser said in September that city authorities were providing the transportation to make sure people wouldn’t end up homeless or hungry.
The city halted the transportation program in October when the Biden administration started expelling Venezuelans back to Mexico under Title 42. But D’Agostino said on Thursday the transportation program could restart if Venezuelans are allowed to cross into El Paso again.
Title 42 allows U.S. border authorities to block asylum claims at the U.S. borders on the grounds of keeping contagious diseases out of the United States amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The policy has been used over 2.5 million times to quickly expel illegal immigrants, mainly at the U.S.–Mexico border.
A federal judge in November ordered the border policy to end by Dec. 21. An effort by Republican states to stay the order was denied late Friday by a federal appeals court, setting the stage for the case to be appealed in the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Texas National Guard has placed some elements standby in anticipation of a surge in illegal immigrants when Title 42 concludes.
“These actions are part of a larger strategy to use every available tool to fight back against the record-breaking level of illegal immigration and transnational criminal activity,” the Texas Military Department advised in a statement on Dec. 16.
“The end of Title 42 could lead to a massive influx of illegal immigrants allowing criminals to exploit gaps while federal authorities are inundated with migrant processing,” the department added.
Separately, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Dec. 13 announced that the state government will resume building a wall on the southern border in January 2023, following months of negotiations with private property owners on the border.
“Texas continues working collaboratively with border communities, private landowners, and other stakeholders to build the Texas border wall and stem the flow of illegal immigration and transnational criminal activity into Texas,” his office stated in a release.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.