EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The City of El Paso on Monday passed an emergency ordinance committing public resources to migrant humanitarian relief efforts.
The move allows the city manager to temporarily assign municipal employees to migrant shelters that are critically low on volunteers in the middle of a migrant surge not seen since early 2019.
The ordinance failed on a first vote when City Rep. Claudia Lizette Rodriguez insisted an outright disaster declaration was warranted. But other council members, Deputy City Manager Mario D’Agostino and Mayor Oscar Leeser said an emergency ordinance will suffice for now, given that the controversial Title 42 public health order remains in place and the number of migrants coming across the border has dipped slightly in recent days.
Federal immigration officials, whose holding facility reportedly had 4,800 migrants in custody earlier this month, are now averaging 2,200 to 2,400 individuals in custody, El Paso County officials said earlier in the day.
Leeser further expressed concern – that he says other El Paso leaders share – that an emergency declaration could be used by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to send National Guard troops and additional Department of Public Safety personnel here. Abbott earlier ordered the National Guard and surged DPS troopers to South Texas under Operation Lone Star. Migrant advocates in El Paso reject such moves as a “further militarization of the border.”
The El Paso council voted to reconsider the item – which had to pass unanimously – and Rodriguez changed her mind on a second vote.
“I need to have your word that if this gets any worse, you will (issue) an emergency declaration,” Rodriguez told the mayor.
“Absolutely and yes,” Leeser responded.
The wording of the ordinance acknowledges a “humanitarian and public safety crisis” resulting from a mass migration event through El Paso. It says nearly 30,000 migrants came across the border from Mexico just in April and that the El Paso Sector of the Border Patrol has encountered 143,124 migrants from October through April.
It also states that a local nonprofit, Annunciation House, is receiving between 400 and 500 of the released migrants per day. Annunciation House Director Ruben Garcia last week made an emotional plea for local governments to take over its main shelter, Casa del Refugiado, because he doesn’t have enough volunteers.
The 15 shelters in the Annunciation House network last week hosted 2,846 migrants and received another 568 on Monday. The nonprofit houses, feeds, clothes and facilitates travel for migrants.
D’Agostino said the ordinance would allow the city manager to keep city workers there – already 24 have been committed – and move to procure space for an alternate facility or begin to make inquiries for services.
“This will give him leeway. [….] The emergency ordinance is necessary to even continue doing what we’re doing today. This will allow us to work outside out scope,” D’Agostino said.
He said the city would seek reimbursement from the federal government for municipal resources spent on migrants.