EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The director of El Paso’s largest migrant shelter network plans to cease operations at one of his largest facilities in July, and he is urging the city or county to take it over before that happens.
The city government earlier this month made 24 of its employees available to assist at Casa del Refugiado and on Monday approved an emergency ordinance authorizing the city manager to be proactive in managing mass migration coming through El Paso.
But facing a critical shortage of volunteers, Ruben Garcia, director of the nonprofit Annunciation House which runs 15 refugee shelters in the region, wants local governments to take over that one facility. Casa del Refugiado houses anywhere from 100 to 150 migrants at any given time.
“It’s good to have the city and county come and say, ‘We’re making these employees available to you,” Garcia said. “I simply think that’s half the step that needs to be taken. The full step is we want to sit with you and look at the possibility of the city/county having this as their first hospitality site and they take responsibility for Casa del Refugiado.”
County Chief Administrator Betsy Keller on Monday told county commissioners she is looking at different options to ensure shelter space and the swift processing of migrants released into the community by federal immigration authorities. Up to 99 percent of those migrants stay here only two or three days.
“Mr. Garcia is facing several challenges [….] He is really at his capacity,” Keller told commissioners. “He told us at a meeting last week, ‘When we sit down together as partners, I don’t want to be the only beds at the table. Each of us should be bringing some beds to the table.’”
Keller said it would cost the county more than $30,000 a month to take over the building, and that’s not including utilities or operational costs. She said an option would be to hire an outside contractor. Endeavors, a San Antonio-based migrant services vendor, was to present the county with a services proposal as early as Tuesday.
“Mr. Garcia has shared with us that he plans to use that facility (Casa del Refugiado) through July and then would like to no longer be operating out of that facility,” Keller said. “Also, he would like us to set up a long-term model to help with actual sheltering. He’s willing to continue to work as partners with us and would really appreciate with anything we could do with volunteers and to bring beds to the table.”
As far as staffing, the county could enter a separate contract with a temporary labor agency, she said.
Local government officials say El Paso cannot afford to lose a major migrant shelter. U.S. immigration authorities are holding an average of 2,200 to 2,400 migrants at El Paso Sector facilities – a number prone to sudden spikes depending on the arrival of large groups.
In April, border agents apprehended nearly 30,000 unauthorized migrants in the sector. Sixty-five percent of those are either placed in detention or expelled under the Title 42 public health order. The other 35 percent typically are given notices to appear in immigration court and released.
Keller said those released are usually families with small children, though that’s not always the case. Those families go to Annunciation House, which she said can take 225 to 300 new arrivals per day. Federal officials sometimes resort to repatriation flights or fly migrants to other Texas cities to reduce detention overflow. But those flights are not consistent, she said, hence the need for local readiness.
“This last week (Border Patrol) have seen as much as 1,500 apprehensions in a day. When they have 2,600 in holding and 1,500 come in a 24-hour period and relief valves are limited,” she told commissioners.
County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said a federal judge’s ruling leaving Title 42 in place for now gives El Paso a chance to prepare for when the order is finally lifted, and more migrants come in.
“We really have an opportunity to perfect things, but we need to move quickly. It’s not just that it wasn’t lifted and we’re off the hook,” he said.
If the county opts to go into the migrant shelter business, officials would like to see an operation much like a processing center, in which someone assists released migrants with immigration paperwork and travel arrangements so that person or family doesn’t spend more than a day at a facility.
The El Paso County Commissioners Court went into executive session to discuss the various proposals but took no action when it reconvened.