El Paso mayor Oscar Leeser has declared a state of emergency as unlawful migrants have overwhelmed local border patrol and law enforcement personnel.
In recent weeks, Leeser had resisted making a declaration, but he said in a Saturday press conference that the sight of scores of unlawful migrants sleeping on the downtown streets in recent days with temperatures dipping below freezing pushed him to make the decision.
“That’s not the way we want to treat people and by calling a state of an emergency it gives us the ability today to be able to do what we couldn’t do until we called it,” Leeser said.
“I said from the beginning that I would call it when I felt that either our asylum seekers or community were not safe,” Leeser added.
The mayor spent most of Saturday in conference calls with the county, state, and federal counterparts, setting the stage for the emergency declaration.
El Paso Deputy City Manager Mario D’Agostino said declaring a state of emergency will allow the city more flexibility in operating more extensive sheltering operations and providing additional transportation for moving unlawful migrants to other locations.
The request includes asking for additional staff to ensure feeding and housing operations, additional busing operations, and additional law enforcement personnel to help ensure the safety of residents and unlawful migrants.
“It’s for the safety of themselves … community members and everyone involved,” D’Agostino said.
The move was also motivated by the expected expiration of Title 42 on December 21, a policy that reduced the number of unlawful migrants the U.S. would allow due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, late Monday, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts temporarily blocked the Biden administration from ending the pandemic-era immigration policy.
Nineteen Republican states, including Texas, had sued to keep the Title 42 rules in place after the Biden administration moved to revoke them. On Friday, a federal appeals court allowed the policy’s expiration date to stand.
The 19 states requested an emergency appeal at the Supreme Court on Monday, which was granted by Chief Justice Roberts. The chief justice ordered the Biden administration to respond to the appeal from the states by 5 p.m. ET Tuesday.
The order puts on hold what many feared would be a new influx of unlawful migrants on the southern border, but it does not necessarily signal which way the high court is leaning on broader questions about the policy. The court will likely issue another order sometime in the next few days.
With the expected surge, D’Agostino said additional state resources would be crucial to ensure enough space to shelter those who cannot fund their own transportation out of the city.
Mayor Leeser noted that one factor preventing him from declaring a state of emergency earlier was that he did not want to concede control of city facilities to Gov. Greg Abbott.
But Leeser said that Gov. Abbott assured him that he would not take over any city operation without first conferring with the mayor’s office.
“He said, ‘Mayor, I’m going to tell you something. We will never do anything without talking to you first, and we won’t impose anything without talking to you first,'” Leeser said.
Leeser also highlighted Texas State Sen. Cesar Blanco (D-El Paso), calling him “instrumental” in working with state officials.
“The situation has superseded our local governments’ capacity and with Title 42 set to expire next week, the demand for resources is elevated,” Blanco said. “I support the city of El Paso’s Declaration of Disaster to activate a whole-of-government approach to addressing this unprecedented crisis.”