Posted on December 16, 2022

Migrant Surge at Border Strains El Paso

Alicia A. Caldwell, Wall Street Journal, December 15, 2022

As federal immigration authorities continue to release migrants by the thousands, El Paso officials and local charities are near a breaking point in the sprawling border city.

Large groups of migrants, including a large contingent of Nicaraguans who crossed the border on Sunday, have been streaming across the Rio Grande in recent days. U.S. Border Patrol facilities housed more than 5,000 people on Wednesday and roughly 1,700 migrants were released, according to data from the City of El Paso.


It is unclear what triggered the latest wave of migrants, but authorities suspect the impending end of Title 42 may be a factor. The law was first used at the border by the Trump administration at the start of the pandemic to block most migrants from being allowed into the U.S. to apply for asylum. Federal authorities have warned that its end could, at least initially, lead to a significant rise in border crossings.

A federal judge has ordered the Biden administration to stop expelling migrants under the law by Dec. 21.


El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser and Mario D’Agostino, the city’s deputy city manager for public safety, said the city is bracing for another surge of migrants should Title 42 expire as scheduled next week. Federal authorities have suggested the volume of migrants crossing at El Paso could double to about 5,000 a day.


On Wednesday morning, several hundred migrants waited on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande for a chance to surrender to waiting Border Patrol agents, the first step in what is likely to be a long legal process to apply for asylum. The migrants stood in a single-file line, many huddled under blankets to shield them from near-freezing temperatures. It was a scene that has been repeated daily since the weekend.

The sudden and continued arrivals have left El Paso shelters rushing to find space, with government buses with dozens of people routinely arriving unannounced, aid workers said.

“It’s chaotic,” said John Martin, deputy director at El Paso’s Opportunity Center for the Homeless.

Mr. Martin said the Opportunity Center’s five shelters traditionally focus on the city’s local homeless population but since August have routinely housed migrants released in the city. On Wednesday, the group’s Welcome Center housed about 129 people, nearly all of whom were migrants.

“Our ideal capacity is 85,” Mr. Martin said of the Welcome Center. The nearby men’s shelter housed nearly 200 men Wednesday, about 60% of whom are migrants, in a space meant to comfortably house 100 to 120 people, he said.

Mr. Martin and members of his staff raced to find space Wednesday afternoon at other shelters and local churches after immigration authorities unexpectedly dropped a group of about 20 men at the already overcrowded Welcome Center, a near daily routine.

El Paso has long dealt with surges of migrants, with tens of thousands of people being released into the city in the last several years. But in those previous surges, including in 2018 and 2019, increases in arrests along the border and subsequent releases were more gradual. Now, Mr. D’Agostino said, 1,000 or more is “the daily normal. Those numbers are unsustainable.”

Mr. D’Agostino said the city has spent about $9.5 million on its migrant-management efforts since July. Federal authorities have so far reimbursed the city $2 million and $3.5 million more is expected from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.


The state has spent about $4 billion on Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star, a state-led border-security effort that has included efforts to arrest border crossers caught trespassing on state land and deploy state National Guard troops. El Paso has declined to participate in the efforts.


The surge in migrants into El Paso prompted Mr. Abbott, a Republican who has been among the most vocal critics of the Biden administration’s handling of the border, to restart commercial-vehicle inspections at international bridges in El Paso and other border crossings. A similar effort was scrapped in the spring after cross-border commerce ground to a near standstill.

On Wednesday, Mr. Abbott also called on the state’s attorney general to investigate allegations that some nongovernmental agencies supporting migrants had actually helped them cross the border illegally.