EL PASO, Texas -- The Biden Administration is set to allow asylum seekers currently stuck in Mexico to cross the border. As a result, El Paso city officials are preparing shelters and transportation for a possible influx during the pandemic.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security says the immigration changes will start being phased-in on Friday.
City officials said Wednesday they were putting protocols in place to help the community avoid a Covid-19 outbreak as migrants make their way across the border.
"We are looking at it very closely and ensuring that we have the protections, not only for the volunteers, but ensuring those congregate settings are going to have the resources they need," said El Paso Deputy Fire Chief Jorge Rodriguez, who coordinate the Office of Emergency Management.
The city plans to provide shelters and hospitality centers with personal protective equipment and rapid Covid tests.
Under the immigration policy change, asylum seekers must pass a rapid Covid test in Mexico before they are taken to a shelter in El Paso. If an individual becomes infected while at a shelter, the city has developed a plan.
"In those cases we would be able to utilize our existing quarantine isolation protocol where we utilize hotels just like we do for the homeless centers," Rodriguez explained.
The city said it is also working with the Greyhound bus system to ensure there is transportation to meets the need of the asylum seekers.
City officials said they remain confident they will be able to handle the migrants because it is not expected there will be too many crossings at the start. Only migrants that fall under the current Migrant Protection Protocol are eligible to cross the border.
"The program is going to start very slow and those numbers are going to be quite low and manageable for the community," Rodriguez said.
There are currently 25,000 asylum seekers in Mexico with active cases that are eligible to come across the border into the U.S.
The city said it does not know exactly when the migrants will begin crossing into El Paso or how many will be expected to cross each day.