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El Paso mayor declares state of emergency over border crisis

 May 2, 2023

President Joe Biden's administration is set to end on May 11 the pandemic-era Title 42 public health order that allowed for the immediate expulsion of migrants at the southern border, and has acknowledged that there will likely be a renewed surge of migrants seeking asylum and illegal entry as soon as that occurs.

In preparation for that likelihood, as well as to deal with current overcrowding that will only grow worse, the city of El Paso, Texas has declared a "state of emergency," the Daily Mail reported.

El Paso now joins fellow Texas border cities Brownsville and Laredo in making such a declaration in advance of the anticipated worsening of the already historic border crisis with the lifting of the Title 42 restrictions.

El Paso Declares an Emergency

The El Paso Times reported on Sunday that Democratic Mayor Oscar Lesser announced the "state of emergency" declaration during a press conference, and said, "We are getting prepared now for what we call the unknown."

The border city is already enduring hundreds of migrants who have formed makeshift encampments on the streets as its homeless shelter is filled beyond capacity. The city is planning to open at least two more temporary shelters this week in advance of the end of Title 42 and the expected surge of migrants that will immediately follow.

Conflicting estimates suggest that as many as 10,000 to 35,000 migrants are waiting just across the southern border in the Mexican city of Juarez for the opportunity to enter the United States, whether through asylum claims or illegally. The city has recently been seeing an average of 1,300 migrants enter on a daily basis, according to U.S. Border Patrol.

One particular challenge for El Paso authorities is differentiating between "unsponsored" migrants who have had asylum claims processed but have nowhere else to go in contrast to "unprocessed" migrants who entered the country illegally, have no formal paperwork or registered asylum claims, and can't be housed in taxpayer-funded shelters due to provisions of federal law.

The emergency declaration itself details the overcrowding and "humanitarian, security, and economic crisis" that El Paso has already experienced due to "mass migration" through the city over the past two years, which has greatly overwhelmed its infrastructure and resources and resulted in legitimate safety concerns for both migrants and residents.

The mayor's declaration lasts for just seven days unless extended for another 30 by the city council, and will authorize the expenditure of funds for new temporary shelters and other things and will also make the city eligible for state and federal emergency funding, per the Times.

Other Texas Border Cities Face Same Problem

The Associated Press reported that a similar situation is ongoing on the opposite end of the state in Brownsville, Texas, which also declared a state of emergency last week to deal with a premature surge of migrants it has received in advance of Title 42 being ended by the Biden administration.

Per Border Patrol officials, more than 15,000 migrants entered the city last week, a sharp increase from an average of around 1,700 per week earlier in April. Meanwhile, there are reportedly thousands more waiting across the border in the Mexican city of Matamoros.

It is unclear what, exactly, precipitated the premature surge, and varying reports attribute it to migrant frustration while waiting to be processed as well as pressure applied by the dangerous drug cartel in that region -- both of which were blamed for a recent fire that burned down a migrant camp in the Mexican border city.

Regardless of the reasons, Brownsville is already overwhelmed and lacks the financial resources or space in shelters to adequately deal with an additional influx, with a spokesperson for the police department telling the AP, "We’ve never seen these numbers before."

Biden Authorizes Extra Funds, Deploys Military Troops to Border

The Daily Mail noted that President Biden's administration has acknowledged the likelihood of an additional surge of migrants across the border once Title 42 is lifted and has reportedly unveiled a plan to try to speed up the asylum claims process and take other actions to minimize the numbers of migrants who will enter the country on a daily basis.

Part of that includes a memo issued by the president on Monday to announce that he had authorized the allocation of as much as $50.3 million from the United States Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance Fund to be used "for the purpose of meeting unexpected urgent refugee and migration needs in the Western Hemisphere, including through contributions to international organizations by the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration of the Department of State."

Coinciding with that was a report from Fox News that President Biden has also authorized the deployment of 1,500 active-duty military troops to the southern border to help bolster and support U.S. Border Patrol agents, typically with administrative and transportation and other logistical needs but not the actual enforcement of immigration laws.

That deployment will reportedly last for at least 90 days, and is likely to draw criticism of Biden from Democrats and immigration advocates who will undoubtedly compare the move to former President Donald Trump's prior deployment of U.S. military troops to the southern border as part of his administration's crackdown on illegal immigration prior to the 2020 pandemic.