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El Paso council discusses migrant situation as lifting of Title 42 looms

EL PASO, Texas -- El Paso city staff presented an update on the migrant situation to council on Monday, including the amount of reimbursements the city has received from the federal government, and the plan for the eventual lifting of Title 42.

The city says it's still waiting on $7.28 million of reimbursement checks from the federal government for its response to the situation earlier this year.

The city opened a processing center and chartered buses to northern cities, like New York City, when migrants from Venezuela crossed into El Paso with no sponsors or money to go to their next destination.

Even without a full response, El Paso Deputy City Manager Mario D'Agostino says costs continue to rise at a slower rate because there are still 60-plus city staff members dedicated to working on the migrant situation. The city says those staff members are embedded at non-governmental organizations and are assisting migrants who are waiting for flights at the El Paso International Airport.

When talking about city staff at the NGOs, El Paso City Manager Tommy Gonzalez said it was necessary to have staff assisting those shelters because, "if that fails, then the entire system fails.”

El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser said the federal government would not start sending reimbursement checks until after December 5, the last day for entities to submit for reimbursement.

The city has closed its processing center and has stopped the charted busing program.

D'Agostino said officials from U.S. Customs and Border Protection had recently asked the city to open a temporary processing center for 30 days.

The city said it would open the center if CBP could pay $3 million upfront. CBP could only provide $600,000.

D'Agostino said the city is using that money to continue the efforts they already have in place and are not opening a temporary processing center.

City data shows there are between 500 and 900 community releases of migrants per day in the month of November. In October, there were between 300 and 1,200 releases each day.

Title 42, the health order that allowed immigration officials to expel asylum seekers, was struck down by a U.S. District Judge on November 15.

Judge Emmet Sullivan of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., said the order was harmful to migrants and was "capricious and arbitrary."

The lifting of Title 42 will not go into effect until December 21. There are concerns that once the health order is lifted, the city will once again be inundated with an influx of migrants that will be too much to handle, leading to immigrants released on the streets of downtown.

D'Agostino says the city is prepared to open a processing center and start the busing program once again if the need is there.

Right now, a federal immigration policy says Venezuelans are not allowed to cross into the country unless they already have a sponsor. When Title 42 is lifted, that policy will be mute.

At Monday's city council meeting, it was revealed that the city has been in talks with the federal government to ask that Fort Bliss be opened to help with the situation.

In June 2021, the military installation stepped up to temporarily house and process immigrants who were escaping Afghanistan.

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Dylan McKim


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