The emergency declaration that allows El Paso to protect migrants by taking them off the streets and putting them in temporary shelters was extended for 30 days during a special City Council meeting Friday night.

While the declaration passed 6-0, city Rep. Alexsandra Annello asked that the item be brought back to the council for discussion on Jan. 3 — the day three new city representatives take office. City Reps. Cissy Lizarraga and Cassandra Hernandez were absent

“I want to support this, I absolutely have no issue,” Annello said. But she expressed concern over state government actions since the Dec. 17 disaster declaration, particularly National Guard and Department of Public Safety activity near the border.

The Friday night vote by the council was needed because the state of disaster declared by Mayor Oscar Leeser on Dec. 17 was only good for seven days. 

“We were able to get 238 people off the streets last night,” Leeser said. 

He was referring to a group of Venezuelan migrants who city officials would not allow into the city-run shelter at the convention center because they had not been processed by the Border Patrol. They were taken to shelters set up by the El Paso Catholic Diocese and Annunciation House. 

However, despite the 20-degree weather, some migrants did not want to leave the streets.

“They do not trust anybody and we cannot force anyone to go to a shelter,” Deputy City Manager Mario D’Agostino said. 

For those who refused to leave, the city parked two Brio buses near the migrant gathering spot outside Sacred Heart Catholic Church to be used as a warming center.

For the past six months, El Paso has been the epicenter of a migrant influx that does not appear to be letting up and may get worse if Title 42 is lifted next week. 

Title 42 is a COVID-19 public health order initiated by President Trump in 2020 and expanded by President Biden that allowed border agents to immediately expel many migrants without an opportunity to request asylum. The Supreme Court is reviewing a federal judge’s ruling from November that the program must end.

Ramon Bracamontes

Ramon Bracamontes is editor of El Paso Matters.