EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – El Paso County officials and the governor of Texas have a much different take on life on the border post-Title 42.
Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday warned border sheriffs of an impending immigration and public safety catastrophe once the Biden administration lifts the public health order that has allowed border agents to swiftly expel 1.7 million unauthorized migrants since March 2020.
But when Abbott left the Texas Border Sheriffs Coalition meeting at the DoubleTree Hotel in El Paso, County Judge Ricardo Samaniego scoffed at such a dire prediction.
“He says Border Patrol drops them off in border communities; that’s only happened once in El Paso, in 2018,” Samaniego said. “After that, we coordinated (with Border Patrol) and they never dropped off people in our community.”
Samaniego said El Paso has witnessed the arrival of 300,000 migrants in the past three and a half years without that posing a strain on the county or its resources. He said things have gone smoothly thanks to good communication with the Border Patrol, stakeholders from local nonprofits and government officials in Juarez, Mexico.
“We want him to work with the plan we’ve been working off for three and a half years […] They (the State of Texas) should enhance existing programs, not create another program. That doesn’t make sense,” Samaniego said.
Abbott highlighted the Biden administration’s worst-case scenario of up to 18,000 migrants coming across the border every day once Title 42 ends. “I think whatever is being anticipated, whatever strategies are being put in place, it’s probably not going to enough to deal with the volume of people who are coming across the border,” the governor said.
But El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles says Far West Texas is unlikely to see such a surge.
“Here in El Paso, we don’t anticipate a significant increase in the numbers … the migration has mostly been in the counties east and then south of us,” Wiles said. “We have been working with Border Patrol and (Texas Department of Public Safety) in anticipation of what actually could happen. But, quite frankly, we don’t anticipate the same numbers in this region.”
According to the latest U.S. Customs and Border Protection statistics, the El Paso Sector is fifth nationwide in terms of migrant apprehensions in fiscal year 2022. The Rio Grande Valley sector has more than double the number of apprehensions and Del Rio has almost twice as many as El Paso.
Samaniego said coping with whatever comes on May 23 will depend on good communication between local governments, federal agencies and a third, key partner.
“If we work with Juarez (Mexico), if Juarez can hold them off for a little bit and have their shelters ready, that’s what we should be doing,” he said. “And we’ve done that before where they actually call us and say, ‘we’re going to have 300 show up at the border.’ So, there’s a way to handle this through collaboration.”
The migrant surge of late 2018 proved a challenge, with no one controlling access to U.S. ports of entry on the Mexican side. The state of Chihuahua in early 2019 began keeping a list on a first-come, first-served basis of migrants wanting to present themselves for asylum to prevent chaos on the Mexican side of international bridges.
Samaniego praised such regional collaboration and wishes the same was true of communication with Abbott.
“The mayor, he’s never gotten a call from the governor … He (Abbott) today mistook Mayor (Oscar) Leeser for the county judge. We are one of the most robust communities in all of Texas and on the border and he can’t recognize who the county judge and the mayor are. That says a lot,” Samaniego said.
The county judge said he would like to have a conversation with Abbott about what El Paso needs to pitch in managing migration challenges in the state.
“We get almost 200 people a day just on buses from Del Rio, we are getting people coming in. […] We need the flights to go out a little faster. We’re already working with Las Cruces, Albuquerque, San Antonio where we can channel,” Samaniego said. “We need to be able to sit down with him (Abbott) and say, ‘this is what El Paso needs, this is what could help us to make it better.’ Just being concerned that we’re going to be overwhelmed and creating some irrational thing about moving people all the way to Washington doesn’t make sense.”