• Sun. Dec 4th, 2022

Homeless services agency rethinks role as migrant transportation hub in El Paso after troopers

ByJanice K. Merrill

Aug 31, 2022

The nonprofit that served as the city of El Paso’s hub for ferrying migrants out of the area is reconsidering its role, especially after the Texas State Guard arrives at its shelter for homeless monday.

“We are reassessing the situation. We want this to be a smooth operation. There are a lot of things that are on the table,” said John Martin, deputy director of the Opportunity Center of El Paso, which operates the Welcome Center homeless shelter in South El Paso. “But we recognize that the presence of these individuals has raised some concerns, particularly in light of all of this political unrest we are seeing in the state of Texas.”

El Paso Matters spoke to Martin following a Tuesday press conference by city leaders, who said their “federal immigration partners,” referring to the El Paso area of the US Border Patrol, had informed the city earlier this month that it would release a large number of migrants from detention. The city then appealed to the state for help.

Jorge Rodriguez, Office of Emergency Management coordinator for the city and county, said city officials on Aug. 23 asked the state to help with a charter bus provided the OEM coordinates and keep control of the effort.

“At no time was this operation handed over to the state, and this continues to be our operation,” Rodriguez said.

The city that would maintain control of the bus operation would keep it separate from Gov. Greg Abbott’s controversial efforts to ferry thousands of migrants to New York and Washington, DC.

Abbott’s efforts, which he says are a response to the Biden administration’s failure to slow border crossings, rely on donations to pay for charter buses from Texas. Critics said the bus effort is a campaign stunt by Abbott, a Republican who is being challenged in his bid for a third term as governor by Democrat Beto O’Rourke of El Paso.

El Paso Deputy City Manager Mario D’Agostino added that the city will continue to ferry migrants out of the area with state assistance if needed.

But the welcome center played a pivotal role in organizing migrants for charter buses, so it’s unclear what the city would do if the opportunity center pulled out of the effort.

City of El Paso officials did not respond to a request for comment on how they would adjust their efforts to care for migrants if the opportunity center was not part of the effort.

The city and OEM have chartered four buses to New York since last week and sponsored a bus to Dallas in June, in a bid to handle the growing number of Central and South American migrants arriving at the border. .

John Martin, deputy director of the El Paso Opportunity Center for the Homeless, speaks about the influx of migrants to El Paso during a press conference at City Hall on Tuesday, August 30. (Cindy Ramirez/El Paso Matters)

The building is being renovated to serve as a homeless shelter run by the Opportunity Center and a group of other nonprofits as part of a new initiative called El Paso Ayuda that the city plans to launch this autumn.

Martin said the 7,000 square foot building was too small to meet the needs of the local homeless population, alongside the growing number of homeless migrants arriving in the city. He said he would make recommendations to the city in the coming days.

The Texas State Guard arrived in El Paso on Monday, with five soldiers helping nonprofit organizations process migrants at the reception center. A few members of the Texas Division of Emergency Management were also present.

Another bus was scheduled to take the migrants to Chicago on Monday, but it was canceled because there was not enough interest there to fill it. The migrants who were there on Monday, mostly single women, were instead helped to catch commercial flights or buses to other towns or were taken to other shelters in the area.

Martin said the migrants at the center on Monday were not comfortable with the uniformed soldiers there, but did not say if he felt this had any impact on their interest in taking the charter bus for Chicago.

An Ecuadorian family hoping to join relatives in Virginia waits at a shelter in southern El Paso on Friday, August 26. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

The Texas Military Department has confirmed that it is working with its interagency partners to assist with escort duties in El Paso as part of Abbott’s Operation Lone Star border security initiative. The governor began busing migrants out of Texas in April, carrying 7,400 to Washington, DC, and 1,500 to New York on Friday.

D’Agostino said that in addition to chartering buses, the city’s and OEM’s response to the influx of migrants has included contracts with hotels to house migrants when the central processing center Border Patrol releases them and shelters in the area are at capacity.

Meetings with migrants are increasing

The U.S. Border Patrol Central Processing Center in El Paso has been releasing 50 migrants a day into the city since Friday, area officials said in a statement to El Paso Matters on Tuesday. This effort is coordinated with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Removals Enforcement Office.

Migrants are provisionally released pending the next stage of their immigration procedure, which reduces the number of migrants in detention.

In recent days, officers in the El Paso area have encountered an average of about 900 migrants per day, officials said. The agency is still deporting migrants under Title 42, a public health law, or placing them in deportation proceedings under Title 8, the Law Enforcement Act. immigration.

Officials in the El Paso area could not immediately provide a breakdown of the number of those migrants deported in recent weeks. Statistics are usually released in the middle of the month for the previous month.

Staff from El Paso Helps, the Texas State Guard, and the Texas Division of Emergency Management traveled to the South El Paso reception center on Monday, August 29 to assist recently released migrants detention to find transportation and a place to go. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

From October 2021 to July this year, the El Paso area recorded nearly 229,000 encounters with migrants, an increase of 47% over the same period last year, according to the latest statistics from the US Customs and Border Patrol released August 15. In July alone, the region recorded 24,900 encounters, an increase of 21% over last year.

Of those total encounters, nearly 60% resulted in expulsions under Title 42.

“We appreciate the strong alliance of agencies and community leaders that we have here in El Paso to help us deal with surges in irregular migration as they arise,” said Gloria I. Chavez, Area Manager of the El Paso Border Patrol, in the release.

“As we carry out our national security mission and respond to the challenges of these waves of irregular migration, we do so with the goal of treating all people in our care respectfully, safely and humanely,” she added. .

Increase bed capacity

Ruben Garcia, founder of the Annunciation House migrant shelter in El Paso, said the number of deportations mattered as much as the encounters when he tried to temporarily house migrants at more than a dozen shelters in the area. Combined, these shelters can usually accommodate some 380 migrants a day – but only a few days a week. Most church-run shelters are not available to receive migrants over the weekend.

“That’s why it would be so helpful if the city and county each opened a welcome site,” Garcia said. “It would increase bed capacity. With everyone doing their part, it is doable.

Carlos and Maria, Colombian migrants, settle a dispute over a scooter between two of their children as they pass the time at Casa Refugiado in May. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Last month, Garcia closed the Casa del Refugiado, one of the Southwest’s largest migrant shelters, after unsuccessfully urging city and county governments to take it over. The converted East Side warehouse housed tens of thousands of migrants for four years.

The Border Network for Human Rights, an El Paso-based immigration advocacy and reform nonprofit, on Tuesday condemned what it called the militarization of the border and called on the city to end to its partnership with the State for the transport of migrants.

BNHR is also urging city, county and federal governments to invest in what it calls “welcoming infrastructure in El Paso” and move away from anti-immigration enforcement strategies that it says play on the story of the invasion.

“The use of military personnel to transport asylum seekers plays into Governor Abbott’s political ambitions,” Fernando Garcia, the organization’s executive director, said in a statement.