EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The City Council on Tuesday will discuss extending through November an emergency ordinance to deal with an ongoing humanitarian and public safety migrant crisis. The move comes as federal authorities continue to release more migrants in El Paso than anywhere else in Texas.
Data released during Monday’s City Council work session shows U.S. Customs and Border Protection released 26,000 migrants in the El Paso area in September alone – half of them without a sponsor in the United States. That compares to 14,854 releases in Eagle Pass and 2,277 in Del Rio, Texas. But nine out of 10 migrants released in other Texas cities do have financial sponsors and thus can move about on their own.
Providing for the unsponsored migrants has led El Paso officials to spend $6.1 million in food, transportation, and free hotel stays for foreign nationals passing through since July. The city has hired 207 charter buses as of October 6 to send 9,800 migrants to New York City, Chicago, and other hubs. It has also directed 50 municipal employees to assist at hotels and undermanned nonprofit shelters.
El Paso officials are expecting the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reimburse those costs, but so far, the reimbursements are pending. El Paso has also requested a $10 million advance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Last month, federal officials told the city they could expect a $2 million advance, but that money is yet to arrive, too.
CBP data shows Venezuelan migrants coming across the Rio Grande from Juarez, Mexico, are fueling the surge.
Border agents are apprehending 2,040 migrants per day in an El Paso Sector that includes El Paso and Hudspeth County and the state of New Mexico. Seventy percent of those are Venezuelan nationals, and an average of 921 are being released daily to immigration-advocacy local nonprofits.
No direct street releases have been reported since Sept. 15.
Ariel Ruiz, policy analyst at the Washington, D.C.-based Migration Policy Institute, said most Venezuelan migrants were crossing into the United States at Del Rio, Texas, as of August.
He said a combination of factors may be responsible for the sudden and massive shift to El Paso.
One is transnational criminal organizations following “the path of least resistance” to bring their charges into the United States. With Texas Gov. Greg Abbott keeping hundreds of Texas Department of Public Safety officers and National Guard troops near Del Rio, Eagle Pass, and other stretches of South Texas – as well as some drownings reported on the Rio Grande near Del Rio – other venues became more convenient.
Also, word-of-mouth among the Venezuelans themselves is drawing more to the Juarez-El Paso corridor, he said.
“El Paso has, at least in the media so far, tended to be more receptive, more welcoming than other parts of Texas,” Ruiz said. “If you are a Venezuelan migrant and you’ve traveled thousands of miles, you are going to go where you believe you will get a better welcome.”
Border Report has interviewed several Venezuelan migrants passing through El Paso and some said they left their country years ago and were living in Peru, Colombia, Chile, Brazil, or Paraguay before deciding to set off for the United States.
Ruiz said those countries have not quite recovered from the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and thus the Venezuelan immigrants there may no longer feel financially stable.
Some local and federal officials have told reporters that the Venezuelans coming to El Paso were free to move about in Mexico through humanitarian visas. However, recently released numbers from Mexico’s Refugee Commission (COMAR), show only 8,665 Venezuelans have applied for refugee status – a prerequisite for receiving humanitarian travel visas – in all of 2022.
“The latest numbers show that there is an increase in Venezuelans being apprehended in Mexico, but it is not proportionate to the pace that we are seeing, which means Mexico by choice of lack of resources – or a mix of both – is not detaining them as much as, say, Hondurans and Guatemalans,” Ruiz said.
Ruiz agrees with City of El Paso officials in that the Venezuelans for the most part have no plans to stay in El Paso or anywhere near the Mexican border. It is more likely they will end up settling in cities with established Venezuelan communities.