El Paso council members call for Biden to visit border as humanitarian crisis continues

The El Paso City Council unanimously voted to extend its emergency declaration by at least 30 days as the humanitarian crisis that has resulted in scores of migrants sleeping in the street continues.

The action came from several council representatives and residents late Friday night who spoke during the public comment section of the emergency meeting and deplored what they called the "militarization" of the Texas border by Gov. Greg Abbott.

City representatives also repeated a plea that for two years has been all but shouted by the state's Republican leadership: The border crisis demands the hands-on attention of the White House.

"I believe President Joe Biden needs to come to El Paso," said outgoing council Rep. Claudia Rodriguez.

Rep. Isabel Salcido said: "I do believe Biden needs to come here to El Paso."

The governor responded immediately to the city's emergency declaration Dec. 17.

Three days later, under the cover of darkness, Texas National Guard troops stationed Humvees and staged reams of concertina wire on northern edge of the Rio Grande. The soldiers gripped their rifles in the face of men, women and children seeking asylum.

The council did not indicate if it would ask Abbott to remove the troops and razor wire. The governor says he plans to install a "blockage."

El Paso city leaders acknowledged that the extended emergency declaration alone will not fully manage the crisis.

Migrants crossed the Rio Grande and approach the Texas National Guard to enquire when they will be allowed to be processed by Customs and Border Protection to seek asylum in El Paso, Texas on Dec. 20, 2022.

Deputy City Manager Mario D'Agostino stressed that the city, working with non-profit organizations, migrant advocates and clergy, is doing everything it can to move migrants to shelters and out of freezing conditions. Many, however, are refusing assistance.

Lesser, himself, has pleaded with migrants to move to shelters. The migrants, allowed legal entry into the U.S. to seek asylum, have fallen prey to abuse. Some are fearful to accept local assistance.

In cases where migrants insist on sleeping in the streets, the city has parked buses at the curbside so the migrants can use them as heating stations.

"What we're doing now is strictly a band-aid on a broken system that needs to be fixed," Mayor Oscar Leeser told the council and those attending the meeting.

More: El Paso mayor declares state of emergency in response to growing migrant crisis

The council's action extends the declaration issued Dec. 17 by Leeser that was set to expire Saturday. The mayor said at the time that he dropped his reluctance to take the step because of the uptick in border crossings fueled by what had been expected to be the end on Wednesday of the Trump-era policy known as Title 42, which allows immigration authorities to expel most asylum-seekers as a means of limiting the spread of COVID-19.

However, the policy was kept in place, at least temporarily by Chief Justice John Roberts, while the full Supreme Court considers litigation by several GOP governors and state attorneys general seeking to stop the Biden administration from rescinding the policy.

During the special council meeting, Leeser and others praised the efforts from across the community and beyond to step up to help El Paso cope with the humanitarian crisis. They encouraged efforts to get migrants into available shelters and even aboard buses to keep them out of the bone-chilling freeze that has enveloped the city and the rest of the nation heading into the Christmas weekend.

The mayor also announced that FEMA has promised to send an additional $7 million to assist the city and El Paso County. He also noted that the Red Cross has pledged to bring 10,000 cots to the city and keep them there through January. The city is planning to use a local school to shelter families. Emergency plans are looking to prepare a second EPISD school property to serve as a shelter.

More: Enhanced truck inspections causing backlog at Texas-New Mexico border

Resident Veronica Carbajal, who submitted written remarks that were read aloud by a city representative, said the presence of National Guard troops and other uniformed personnel sent to El Paso to discourage illegal immigration might be "scaring the migrants" from taking advantage of shelter space and other available services.

El Paso County Commissioner David Stout, who also spoke during the public comment section, said immigration policies by Abbott are not helping.

"We should push back against the militarization of our area as well as against political ploys to make the work of supporting migrants more difficult for those in the community who are doing that work," Stout said.

Last week, Abbott called on Biden to send additional federal aid to El Paso and other border communities to help them manage the immigration spike.

According to the city's Migrant Situational Awareness Dashboard, updated daily, 937 migrants were released by immigration officials into the El Paso community on Friday.

A news release from the city shortly after the 7-0 vote said the declaration allows El Paso authorities to:

  • Formally implement provisions of emergency plans

  • Provide added liability protection to government agencies and special or volunteer emergency workers

  • Formally request general assistance from the state and federal governments

  • Activate local emergency management plans

  • If necessary, implement economic stabilization measures such as price, wage, and rent controls

  • Suspend selected codes and ordinances that would allow for the use of facilities such as schools to be used as shelters.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: El Paso council members ask Biden to come to the border