EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – El Paso officials are preparing for a new influx of migrants – one that some have said could dwarf September’s Venezuelan surge – now that a federal judge has given the Biden administration five weeks to end Title 42 expulsions.
“In essence, we have Guatemala and Mexico under Title 42 […] which we use (on) about 40, 50 percent of people that come in, so that means that it would increase. Whatever we have now would increase. That would be a challenge,” El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said.
Border agents in October encountered migrants 53,284 times in the El Paso Sector that stretches from Hudspeth County to the New Mexico-Arizona border. Of those, 17,375 were expelled to Mexico and 35,909 placed on Title 8 procedures often resulting in them being released into the U.S. under a notice to appear in immigration court.
“If you double the numbers, right now we’re up to capacity, so that would be way over capacity. We have to find more flights, we have to look at different things,” Samaniego said.
Samaniego and some El Paso city officials are not the only ones bracing for increased migration and more asylum-seekers allowed in on parole. The National Border Patrol Council, which represents thousands of border agents, on Wednesday warned of a “massive wave” of new migrants that will be heading to the U.S. once word of the judge’s decision spreads.
U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas, whose vast West Texas district has recorded numerous and continuous migrant releases in places like Del Rio and Eagle Pass, also warned of increased migration.
“Title 42 has been the only policy in place that has kept Border Patrol and law enforcement agencies above water. In its absence, there will be complete chaos in my district and across the country,” Gonzales said. “Cancelling this policy without putting up any guardrails to deter illegal immigration once again highlights this administration’s indifference to how severely our border communities continue to suffer from the border crisis.”
El Paso authorities and nonprofits last September and early October scrambled to provide transportation, meals and hotels for thousands of unsponsored migrants – mostly Venezuelans – released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection with notices to appear in immigration court later. The city spent $8.86 million on the migrants and has received $2.2 million in reimbursements, according to the municipality’s Migrant Dashboard web portal.
The city deactivated its migrant welcoming center shortly after the Biden administration on Oct. 12 decided to make Venezuelans amenable to Title 42 expulsions. Hundreds of Venezuelans remain camped across the Rio Grande in Juarez, Mexico, waiting out Title 42.
El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser on Monday issued a statement saying the city is coordinating its response to the looming end of Title 42 with federal authorities and local nonprofit partners.
“We have remained in daily discussions with the Border Patrol, CBP and all our partners on the migrant influx since the most recent surge began,” Leeser said. “Those conversations have continued and will now include an assessment on (Tuesday’s) decision on Title 42 and the possible scenarios we might see as a result of it, including a coordinated response in which we treat individuals as we would like to be treated, while following the law, and in the best interest of the citizens of El Paso.”
El Paso County is still operating its Migrant Support Services Center.
“At the migrant center for the county we’re able to do 500 to 600 (migrants) a day,” Samaniego said. “I’m glad we established it because now we’re ready to take more people that have their documents, that already have a sponsor. We’ll be able to move them quickly out of the community and then deal with the ones who don’t have proper documentation or that they don’t have sponsors.”
Immigration advocates, on the other hand, see the ruling by U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan in Washington, D.C., as an opportunity to fully restore the right of asylum to migrants who reach the border.
“It is heartening to see Judge Sullivan block the policy in recognition of the irrevocable harm done to people on the move including Black and Indigenous migrants. We look forward to rigorous dialogue with the Biden administration to fully restore asylum and call for an investment in truly humane and orderly solutions for people seeking protection,” said Marisa Limon Garza, executive director of the Hope Border Institute in El Paso.
Title 42 is a health order issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in March of 2020 to prevent the cross-border spread of COVID-19. But advocates said Trump used it as a tool to reduce unauthorized migration and block asylum seekers from coming in.
“Title 42 has never been about public health or safety. Instead, it was a central front in the Trump/Miller war on immigrants and was used as a pretext to trample on America’s proud tradition of offering safety to migrants fleeing oppression, violence and death by offering them a legal process by which they can ask for asylum,” said Vanessa Cardenas, executive director of America’s Voice. ” Even as a border control measure, Title 42 has failed, helped drive up border apprehension statistics and forced the flow of asylum seekers away from our border ports of entry [….] evicting many of those seeking safety back to danger without allowing them to even seek asylum.”