EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The City of El Paso is counting on busing and other “decompression” efforts to avert a crisis once more migrants come across the border when Title 42 ends May 11.
City officials want undocumented migrants living around Sacred Heart church to voluntarily relocate to other Catholic temples in the next few days. They also plan to open up two vacant middle schools early next week for the temporary housing of families and individuals released from federal immigration custody.
“It is important we continue to decompress the system. We are preparing for the unknown; that is how many people are going to come” and what their situation is, Mayor Oscar Leeser said in a Zoom call with reporters on Thursday.
Leeser and his staff talked about two major concerns for the city once the federal government ends swift Title 42 migrant expulsions on May 11. One is how many people are going to come across the border after that date. The other is what to do with the migrant population milling about a South El Paso Catholic church during the day and sleeping on the sidewalks at night.
Leeser said the region can expect some 15,000 migrants — 10,000 to 12,000 already camped across the border in Juarez, Mexico, and a caravan of 3,000 on the way — post Title 42.
Those migrants “are not coming to El Paso, they are coming to the United States and our job is to continue to help asylum-seekers get to their destination,” Leeser said. “Our job is to continue to help our asylum-seekers get to their destination. We will not send anyone where they don’t want to go. […] They are not coming to El Paso. They are coming to the United States. They want to be with their family, they want to go to where there’s jobs” waiting for them.
Assistant Fire Chief Jorge Rodriguez said up to 1,800 migrants are now staying in the immediacy of Sacred Heart church on Oregon Street. Another 400 to 500 are at the Opportunity Center nonprofit shelter east of Downtown.
Many of those at the church are undocumented and cannot be placed in nonprofit shelters that depend on federal reimbursements. Leeser said the American Red Cross is working with churches willing to take in undocumented migrants to augment their sheltering capacity in the next few days. The migrants at Sacred Heart, who have been seen sleeping not just on sidewalks but on the street itself, will be invited to relocate to those churches.
The city and county governments as well as the nonprofits are preparing to assist massive numbers of asylum-seekers in leaving the city once they are released from U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody with a notice to appear in court at a later date.
Rodriguez said the nonprofit shelters can take in up to 600 migrants at a time. The two schools “on loan” from El Paso Independent School District can house between 500 and more than 1,000 migrants depending on whether they’re families or individuals, for 24 to 48 hours.
The county has a Migrant Support Center that could be helping up to 1,200 migrants a day arrange transportation on their own out of the city. The city government is counting on contracting charter buses to take released migrants either to their final destination or to bigger cities where they can get flights or buy a bus ticket to wherever they are going. El Paso International Airport only has about 500 open seats per day and the city last September was dealing with up to 1,500 migrant releases per day.
Assistant City Manager Mario D’Agostino said the city will accept transportation help from the State of Texas, but will control where the buses are going. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott last year drew headlines by busing migrants from border cities to what he called the migrant “sanctuary” of New York.
Leeser said the city is comfortable with having Texas Department of Public Safety troopers patrol highways to protect migrants from rushing into traffic, but said the city will not engage in immigration enforcement.