EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – A sudden surge in encounters with Venezuelan nationals who have no U.S. sponsors – and the lack of nonprofit shelter space – has prompted the U.S. Border Patrol to release nearly 500 migrants in Downtown El Paso in the last two days.
The Venezuelan surge has contributed to daily Border Patrol “encounters” with migrants rising to between 1,100 and 1,400 per day and swelled the population at the Central Processing Center to 3,400.
“The reason we are in the current situation now is because the demographics have changed,” said U.S. Border Patrol Acting Supervisory Agent Carlos A. Rivera. “The great majority of migrants we are encountering now are not amenable to Title 42 expulsions and must be place on a Title 8 pathway which obviously requires more processing, reaching out to (community) partners to determine further custody. Provisional releases are the last option that we have.”
Rivera said this is not the first time the El Paso Sector has seen a sudden migrant surge this year. In May, border agents apprehended more than 34,000 migrants, but most were eligible for Title 42 expulsions. Exemptions for Title 42 expulsion include being deemed part of a vulnerable group, such as unaccompanied minors, LGBT migrants, some families with children and citizens of countries that are not accepting returns.
The Border Patrol says it is trying to “decompress” the Central Processing Center by releasing migrants near migrant and homeless shelters and bus stations. Several released migrants could be seen around the Greyhound Bus Station in Downtown El Paso on Thursday. They were Venezuelans fleeing poverty and political oppression. None volunteered why they chose to travel to Juarez, Mexico, and cross into the U.S. through El Paso.
The patrol is also preparing overflow tent space at its CPC in Northeast El Paso to increase capacity on a temporary basis. That should take three to four days.
The humanitarian emergency has forced local authorities to step up efforts to pick up these migrants, find them a place to sleep and bus them to their destination of choice.
“We are working with Washington to get the resources, to have the flights, the buses available to get people to their destinations and they’re going to make that available to us and they’re going to continue to make that available for us so we can decompress so we don’t hit those 3-4,000 people that are at (the processing center),” El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser told Border Report.
U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, on Friday said she spoke to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas about the situation in El Paso to secure a commitment that local governments and non-governmental organizations would be fully reimbursed for providing care and services to migrants released from federal custody.
“The influx of migrants and subsequent overcrowding of migrant shelters in El Paso has been a long time coming. I applaud the city, county and Office of Emergency Management for their efforts to mitigate the impact,” Escobar said.
El Paso City Manager Tommy Gonzalez emphasized that migrants have a lawful right to free movement once they’re released from U.S. immigration custody, hence the city’s efforts to assist them. “Our shelter of choice is a hotel for the families. I think that’s how you or me would like to be treated,” he said.
City officials say they have placed “hundreds” of migrant families in hotels so far but could not immediately provide a specific number.
Asked if they were aware of press reports from last month quoting Mexican officials saying a lot more migrants were arriving in Juarez with the intention of crossing into the U.S., El Paso officials say they can only act once the migrants are across the border and released from Border Patrol custody.
“We don’t know what’s going to come in tonight, we don’t know what’s going to come in tomorrow, but we know whatever does, we’re going to take care of them. Whether it’s a family, whether it’s 1,000 people come in and they did not all have sponsors, we know what to do. We’ve become very adaptive,” Leeser said.
City officials said most migrants apprehended in the El Paso Sector – 65 percent – are usually sent back by the Border Patrol under Title 42 authority. But that’s subject to changes in the nationality or vulnerability of the migrants coming across and the length of time it takes to process them.
“The wild card in all of this was the Venezuelans. When the Venezuelans crossed, they did not have a network set up in America like the other migrants do. That’s what threw this into a tailspin,” Gonzalez said. “We immediately adapted, we were agile, and we used the charters (buses) to get them where they wanted to go to.”