Nearly 2,000 migrants have been released to the streets of El Paso in the past month, including about 500 in the past five days – just as local governments and nonprofits brace for the end of Title 42 that could bring the humanitarian crisis at the border’s doorstep to a head.
“It’s not a good state,” El Paso Deputy City Manager Mario D’Agostino told the City Council on Monday during an update on the migrant influx and what the region can expect if Title 42 is lifted later this month. “We could see up to thousands a day passing through our community. Nobody can keep up with that. There’s no number of shelters you could have for that. It’s going to take an all-out effort and a lot of that is going to come from the federal government and what they can do to help decompress our area.”
Since Nov. 4, nearly 1,850 migrants have been released to the streets, El Paso sector Border Patrol agents told El Paso Matters on Wednesday. The migrants have been processed by border enforcement agents and are allowed to remain in the country to await their immigration hearings
The street releases continue as Title 42, the controversial public health law that has allowed many migrants who enter the U.S. without authorization to seek asylum to be expelled, is still playing out in the courts.
On Wednesday, the Biden administration filed a notice of its intent to appeal a federal judge’s ruling that would end the policy on Dec. 21. The Biden administration, which had previously criticized President Donald Trump for his use of the policy at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, is now arguing that Title 42 is lawful and valid.
El Paso sector agents have encountered an average of 1,780 migrants daily since November, sector officials said. The majority of the migrants are from Nicaragua, Mexico, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela.
For now, border cities like El Paso continue to see shelters so overwhelmed with migrants they have to turn many away – leaving Border Patrol to release migrants to the streets when, by law, they cannot detain them any longer.
Many are being dropped off near Downtown bus stations such as the Tornado Bus Company, where migrants scramble for a space inside while they await for friends or relatives to help fund their ticket out of El Paso – while many others disperse into the streets in search of a place to stay at least for a few days.
“We’ve endured so much to get here I couldn’t even begin to tell you,” said Rosalia, who left Colombia with her brother about a month ago hoping to reunite with their sister in Florida before Christmas. “Right now we just want to find our families and rest. It’s been a hard few weeks. We couldn’t thank God more for helping us reach this stage on our journey.”
With a black zip-up hoodie wrapped around her waist and a rolled up white Red Cross blanket under her arm, Rosalia, 28, walked quickly down Paisano Drive after being dropped off at the Tornado bus station last week. She was headed toward a business she was told offers moneygram services. There, she hoped to find money already wired to her so she could buy bus tickets out of El Paso.
“I’m blessed to be here, but I’ll be even more so when I reach Florida,” she said, adding that she spent a few days across the border in Juárez, where she met up with her brother, before crossing into El Paso. There, they found shelter in a church where they were allowed to spend the night sleeping on pews. “We’ve slept on enough streets already, but if we have to again, oh, well. But we hope not to.”
The city of El Paso shut down its migrant busing operations in late October, with city leaders reiterating on Tuesday that they have no plans to resume providing transportation to migrants without upfront federal funding.
The city has spent more than $9.5 million to shelter and transport migrants this year and has requested federal reimbursement of nearly $7.3 million of that. The city could receive notice of how much they’ll be reimbursed by next week, D’Agostino said.
More than 60 city employees have been embedded with nongovernmental organizations such as the nonprofit Annunciation House and its network of migrant shelters to help in their efforts, he added.
“El Paso Sector continues to have constant communications with city and county leaders to address the migrant influxes and is also currently transporting migrants to El Paso County facilities when operationally feasible,” Border Patrol officials said in a statement.
The county, in the meantime, is looking to move its Migrant Support Services Center into a larger building that could accommodate more migrants as they await for their flights or buses to get to their next destination.
“We are anticipating Title 42 will be lifted,” Irene Valenzuela, executive director of the county’s Community Services Department, told El Paso County Commissioners on Monday. “We want to be prepared for increased capacity.”
The county has requested additional funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to move into a 17,000-square-foot building not far from the airport – about twice the size of its current site nearby for which the county received more than $6 million in advanced federal funding. The current funding only keeps the facility open through the end of December.
The county expects to hear from FEMA about advanced funding in the coming weeks for the next quarter, Valenzuela told El Paso Matters on Wednesday.
The county has processed about 15,880 migrants since Oct. 10 when it opened its center, which takes migrants released from Border Patrol custody and have the funds to travel by setting up their flight or bus arrangements.