Update 5:15 p.m. Friday: U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials in El Paso confirmed late Friday that Border Patrol didn’t conduct any “provisional,” or street releases. Migrants released from custody on Friday were accommodated in area shelters and hotels. No other details were immediately available.
The city of El Paso is sheltering slightly more than 700 migrants in local hotels and on Friday morning was looking for rooms for another 700 people to avoid the Border Patrol having to release them to the streets as the agency has done before – and is currently doing in other border cities.
“(Border Patrol) keeps calling us and says, ‘We’re gonna have 400 street releases, we’re gonna have 300 street releases,’ and we say, ‘No, we won’t.’ We’re not going to have street releases,” Mayor Oscar Leeser said during a Friday press conference at City Hall. “But at some point, we will run out of capacity and we’ll have to activate that emergency sheltering … but we’re not using it at this point.”
Using federal funds, the city began putting up migrants in local hotels in mid-August as area organizations that typically take them in are beyond capacity and turning people away. The number of people in hotels had mostly remained under 100 until this week, when that climbed to more than 500 on Wednesday and up to 700 by Thursday night.
Leeser said the city may have to consider opening up the Judson F. Williams Convention Center or other facility as an emergency shelter if the number of migrants arriving in the community and needing shelter continues to rise. That would likely require calling in the American Red Cross for help as the city did in May, he said. The city is also in negotiations to buy the vacant Morehead Middle School property on the West Side to use, in part, as an emergency shelter, but that won’t likely be ready for several months even if the sale goes through in October.
The average daily number of migrants in custody in the El Paso Border Patrol sector that encompasses El Paso County and all of New Mexico climbed to above 5,000 the past two weeks, according to the city’s migrant dashboard. The dashboard shows nearly 1,200 migrants were released to community shelters or organizations on Thursday. That decreased the number of people in custody to about 4,700, but that figure is expected to quickly increase as El Paso Border Patrol agents encounter more than 950 migrants daily.
The entire Southwest border, including El Paso, is again seeing an increased number of migrants, including many that are being processed after they’ve had their CBP One appointment to request asylum.
Because of the increased encounters at the El Paso border, cargo processing at the Bridge of the Americas port of entry will be temporarily suspended starting Monday, CBP’s El Paso Office of Field Operations announced Friday. The suspension will allow CBP officers to assist the Border Patrol process migrants who have arrived between the ports of entry, the agency said in a news release. CBP didn’t state how long the closure would last, only that “it will work to return to normal operations as quickly as feasible” and that the Ysleta, Santa Teresa and Marcelino Serna (Tornillo) cargo facilities will remain open.
The Border Patrol has been moving migrants from one region to another in what it calls lateral decompression, including to and from the El Paso sector, agency officials told El Paso Matters on Thursday. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said the Department of Homeland Security is working to quickly decompress areas across the Southwest border, including erecting or expanding soft-sided processing facilities and deploying mobile processing units.
When nongovernmental organizations are over capacity, the Border Patrol coordinates with local governments to identify locations where migrants can access transportation services or accommodations.
That’s when border cities like El Paso see migrants being released near bus stations and airports where they can arrange travel or near churches where they might find shelter.
The Arizona Daily Star reported street releases in several towns – Nogales, Douglas, Bisbee and Casa Grandre – began Wednesday and that others were expected in Tucson. The newspaper, however, said that none of the released migrants have been left “unsheltered overnight,” as they were accommodated with short-term shelter providers.
In San Diego, Border Patrol has been dropping off migrants at transit centers across the county this week, overwhelming nonprofit agencies “scrambling to provide migrants with basic resources,” the San Diego Union Tribune reported Thursday.
Even without street releases, migrants have been sleeping on sidewalks, alleys and other public spaces in El Paso for several weeks as they time out of shelters or are turned away when they’re over capacity.
Many are Venezuelans who don’t have the resources to pay for their own travel out of the city – or for basic necessities such as food and water – and have to stay in the region longer.