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The El Paso city government is ending migrant charter buses to New York and Chicago and shutting down other assistance efforts set up in response to an influx of thousands of migrants in recent weeks, citing the new Biden administration policy of expelling most Venezuelan migrants to Mexico.
“Due to the new policy action for Venezuelans taken last week by the Department of Homeland Security, (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) discontinued sending migrants to the city this week because of a significant decrease in encounters. Two charters departed today for the remaining unsponsored migrants in local shelters as well as our hotel shelter operations,” city spokeswoman Laura Cruz-Acosta said.
Federal immigration agencies had released more than 40,000 migrants in El Paso in the past nine weeks, most of them from Venezuela, according to a dashboard maintained by the city government.
The large number of migrants overwhelmed the capacity of El Paso shelters run by non-governmental organizations, and many of the people were released to the streets to fend for themselves.
The city’s Office of Emergency Management in late August began sending charter buses from El Paso to New York, and later to Chicago. City officials said all of the people who boarded the buses said they wanted to go to those cities.
The city has sent 292 buses to New York or Chicago since late August, carrying almost 14,000 people. The final two buses left Thursday.
More than 10,000 migrants were sent on charter buses from El Paso to New York, leading New York City Mayor Eric Adams to ask El Paso earlier this month to stop sending the buses.
Facing Republican criticism over immigration issues and with midterm elections nearing, the Biden administration announced on Oct. 12 that it would begin expelling Venezuelan migrants who enter the United States without authorization.
The administration invoked powers under a public health law known as Title 42, citing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Biden administration had criticized the Trump administration for developing the Title 42 policy and had tried to end it, only to be blocked by the courts.
The busing operation in recent weeks was based out of the Migrant Welcome Center the city established in Northeast El Paso in September to provide some basic services. The center closed on Thursday, Cruz-Acosta said.
The efforts to wind down the city’s emergency response to the increase in migrant releases in El Paso comes as Mayor Oscar Leeser has faced criticism over his comments about Biden administration involvement in his decision not to declare a state of emergency as thousands of Venezuelans were released in the city.
When asked on Fox News on Wednesday whether the White House had asked him not to declare a state of emergency, Leeser said, “Absolutely not.” That contradicted a statement Leeser had made at a Sept. 27 City Council meeting, when he said the White House had made such a request.
Leeser issued a statement on Thursday that didn’t directly address his contradictory statements.
“Our partners concurred with my decision that the circumstances did not warrant an emergency disaster declaration, as the crisis was managed with everyone’s collaboration,” he said.