EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – El Paso County is not following the city’s footsteps, at least for now, in declaring a state of emergency over the escalating migrant situation in the region.
“We are looking at what it means from the county’s perspective to declare an emergency at this time. We are looking […] to see what the benefits are and trying our best to be ahead of the situation,” County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said at Monday’s Commissioners Court.
The city on Monday went into a state of emergency in anticipation of the end of Title 42 expulsions on the night of May 11. The declaration lets the city deploy additional resources to assist migrants, including utilizing two El Paso Independent School District vacant middle schools for temporary housing, when needed.
Monday’s county agenda included discussion and action on the county’s response, but the commissioners’ court took no action.
Samaniego emphasized the county has been preparing for a sharp rise in migrant arrivals, nonetheless.
“This is not something we are barely working on. We’ve been extremely active” helping nongovernment organizations get funding and holding regular meetings with stakeholders, the county judge said.
One of the cornerstones of the county’s response is expanding the Migrant Support Services Center capacity. “We’re going from 600 (migrants) a day to 1,200. I think that’s a huge, huge effort on the county’s part,” he said. The facility allows migrants released on parole to make arrangements for temporary housing and transportation out of El Paso. Ninety-nine percent of migrants crossing the border at El Paso don’t stay in the city, officials say.
Last week, Samaniego told reporters he is concerned about the State of Texas’ response over a local emergency declaration. “I personally don’t like that because they can bring more troopers, the militia …” he told reporters during a Friday event at the courthouse. “Last time, we didn’t get anything out of having an emergency declaration. All we got was more patrols and barbwire and that doesn’t help.”
Residents might feel safer with the state fencing along the Rio Grande and stepped-up law enforcement, but shutting off a large chunk of the border to asylum-seekers forces them to come across through residential areas, he said.
“When you start blocking them, they go further and further out which means they go into residences because they’re desperate, they haven’t drunk water. When we see some in the backyards, it’s because we’ve pushed them to the sides,” Samaniego said. “As long as we bring them into the middle, we can get the flow going here and we can control it. You put the barbwire, people get hurt, they try to go through the wall, they end up needing medical and it’s more costly for the community.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in mid-December deployed the Texas Army National Guard to the Rio Grande levee beyond the border wall. The presence of soldiers, military vehicles and Texas Department of Public Safety patrols shut down migrant activity near the Paso del Norte and Stanton Street Bridges.
The governor’s actions came in the middle of a surge where hundreds of migrants could be seen crossing into El Paso daily near that spot.
Abbott also has doubled down on the oft-criticized Operation Lone Star. In a recent tweet, the governor said DPS troopers have thwarted more than 8,700 human smuggling attempts. “Thank you, Texas DPS and Texas military, for helping fill gaps created by President Biden’s refusal to secure our border,” Abbott tweeted.
Samaniego on Monday expressed confidence in local efforts to manage whatever happens in the region after May 11.
“There is no community on the border that is as organized and committed to make sure we mitigate all the challenges. It might be a crisis, but I think it’s going to be more manageable than people suspect,” the county judge said.
He said if Abbott wants to help El Paso, he should call and ask how. “We’ve been doing this for four years, we’ve been very successful, we don’t need someone to tell us what to do,” Samaniego said. “We need the funding, we need for them to support the things we want, not the things they think they want because they don’t understand it.”