The mayor of El Paso, Texas, Oscar Leeser, declared a state of emergency on Saturday night due to the increased number of migrants crossing the southern border and the shortage of available shelter space in the coming week.
El Paso officials hope to use the emergency declaration to unlock additional resources and expand available shelters for migrants as evening temperatures are forecast to drop below freezing in the coming week. This is because the federal health order, known as Title 42, which was used during the COVID-19 pandemic to quickly expel migrants, expires on Wednesday.
According to Leeser, the city is struggling to keep up with the number of asylum seekers, so he made the proclamation to shield them. The declaration will remain in effect until Dec. 24, at which point the municipal council will determine whether to prolong it.
At a press conference held Saturday in front of El Paso City Hall, Leeser said, “I indicated from the beginning that I would call [a state of emergency] when I thought that either our asylum seekers or our community was not secure.” We don’t want to treat individuals like the hundreds who are already living on the streets, and I believe that today’s asylum seekers are in danger because of this.
For the sake of the migrants and the community as a whole, the city has announced that it would also establish an Emergency Operations Center and undertake emergency management strategies.
Leeser said that El Paso has regulations prohibiting the use of specific facilities as shelters, but that by declaring a state of emergency, municipal officials can provide temporary accommodation for migrants. The officials did not give any examples of how the buildings will be utilised.
The demands made by El Paso and the city of Austin to the Texas Division of Emergency Management prior to the declaration were constrained by the agency’s existing operations and funding. The statement grants local governments the authority and leeway to negotiate state aid.
Mario D’Agostino, deputy municipal manager, said the emergency declaration would allow the city to ask the state for more resources to help feed and lodge refugees. D’Agostino said the city had requested more police and buses to relocate migrants to other regions of the nation.
The city of El Paso and Governor Greg Abbott have both dispatched buses full of migrants to major towns run by Democrats in the last year, but El Paso officials have worked with local groups to prepare for the arrival of the migrants on their buses.
After contacting the governor’s office, Leeser claimed he was reassured that “we will never do anything without talking to you first and we won’t impose anything without talking to you first” in regards to collaborating with the state.
According to Leeser, Wednesday will see a “incredible” influx of asylum seekers. A federal official told him that the current daily average of 2,500 illegal border crossings may increase to as many as 6,000 if nothing is done.
“Our border neighborhood is suffering an unparalleled humanitarian crisis,” said Senator César J. Blanco, D-El Paso. To address this situation and back up local calls for more resources from the State of Texas, our office “has been working with community leaders from the local, state, and federal levels.”