Hours after the city and county of El Paso each announced they would file separate emergency declarations as a surge of immigrants arrive in the border city, both entities have reversed course and tell The Post they will not declare an emergency— just yet.
“We backed off of it because we found out that there’s very little difference between the funding we’re getting now and the funding that we would get if it went up to the governor and the governor sent it to President Biden,” El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego told The Post. “Right now they could fund the processing center, they can fund the paid volunteers.”
Local leaders have been looking to set up a temporary shelter or processing center for migrants after more than 100 were released onto the streets of downtown El Paso Sunday after both the Border Patrol processing center and non-profit shelters ran out of space to house them.
The City of El Paso initially told The Post it would declare a state of emergency Wednesday evening, while the County of El Paso publicly announced it would do the same Thursday morning in order to be eligible for additional funding to deal with the crisis. After meetings with FEMA and other federal officials, Samaniego told The Post he’d lost the appetite to push forward.
“We were led to believe at the beginning that there’d be a big difference [in funding] so we got excited about that,” he said in a phone interview. “We gathered everybody and we asked FEMA, ‘Okay, FEMA, how much do we gain from doing this declaration?’ And he said, ‘You’re getting most of the funding now through emergency and shelter funding.’”
“So we actually backed off — the mayor and I backed off.”
El Paso, like most cities on the border, is already seeing a surge of immigrants and officials are preparing for the possibility that they will be overwhelmed if Title 42 is lifted as planned on Monday. Title 42 refers to a federal heath policy that has been used to keep nearly 2 million immigrants from entering the country because of the pandemic.
A federal judge could decide as soon as Friday if he will lift Title 42, as the Biden Administration wants, or will side with several states who have sued to keep it in place, arguing they will be overrun by immigrants.
As many as 7,000 border-crossers a day could come to El Paso when Title 42 is lifted, Samaniego told The Post. The local Border Patrol processing center only has capacity for about 4,200 people and local shelters can only handle a few hundred, depending on the day.
Samaniego anticipates there will be criticism of his about-face, but noted the city and county can always file emergency declarations when Title 42 is actually lifted.
“I know that the first reaction is going to be … they think that we have a need for securing the borders — even though we’ll explain, ‘It’s humanitarian. It’s for funding.’ It had nothing to do with our inability to handle any situation, but it will be misconstrued and then they’ll say that we need the National Guard … all these other things that can happen with these narratives that are taking place,” the county judge said.
“It wasn’t worth it to get so little and then put ourselves in a predicament as to how it’s going to be interpreted because we have a declaration of emergency crisis on our hands.”
The City of El Paso could not be immediately reached for comment.