The mayor of El Paso declared a state of emergency Saturday ahead of Wednesday’s deadline to lift a COVID-era policy that is expected to result in more than 6,000 migrants crossing the border a day into an already overwhelmed city where hundreds are already sleeping on the streets.
“Our asylum seekers are not safe,” said El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser at a specially called press conference to announce the emergency measures. “We have hundreds and hundreds on the street and that’s not the way we treat our people.”
Temperatures have dipped into the 20s in the city, he said, and migrants who have been released into the city are sleeping on downtown streets.
“I want to make sure that people are treated with dignity,” Leeser said, adding that he made the decision to call a state of emergency after a conference call with federal, state and municipal officials. The city government is working with local non-profits that are helping newly arrived migrants travel to other parts of the country where many have family.
“We all talked about what was best for our community,” he said, adding that more than 1,500 migrants have been crossing the border daily into the city ahead of the Dec. 21 lifting of Title 42, a Trump-era policy that saw migrants sent back into Mexico.
The sober press conference was in sharp contrast to the one called on Thursday. Leeser walked off with the microphone to avoid answering questions after he was challenged about not calling a state of emergency to cope with the migrant influx. At the time, he said that the federal government had promised the beleaguered city $6 million to help it cope with the crisis.
“We were able to get the funding without having to [declare an emergency],” Leeser claimed Thursday.
On Saturday, Leeser did not rule out using a nearby military base to house some of the migrants, and that the city was cooperating with state and federal authorities to address the situation.
“This is bigger than El Paso,” said Leeser. “Everyday the situation changes. We have to adapt to different things day in and day out.”