Dec 17 (Reuters) – The mayor of the Texas border city of El Paso declared a state of emergency on Saturday, citing hundreds of migrants sleeping on the streets in freezing temperatures and thousands being arrested every day.
Mayor Oscar Leeser, a Democrat, said the emergency declaration would give city authorities the resources and ability to shelter migrants who have crossed the Mexican border.
“We wanted to make sure people are treated with dignity. We want to make sure everyone is safe,” Leeser told reporters.
The move comes as El Paso, a Democratic stronghold with a history of welcoming immigrants, has struggled in recent months to deal with thousands of migrants crossing the border with Mexico. The city is bracing for a possible jump in the number of migrant arrivals after a US judge ends the COVID-era border restriction order known as Title 42 by December 21.
Record numbers of migrants have been caught crossing the US-Mexico border under President Joe Biden, a Democrat who takes office in January 2021, prompting attacks by Republican opponents who favor tougher policies.
US border agents have intercepted an average of more than 2,400 migrants a day in a 268-mile stretch of the border known as the El Paso Sector in the past week, according to figures published by the city, a 40% increase compared to last Autumn.
Even as government officials move migrants in El Paso to other US cities, local shelters are over capacity and migrants are sleeping on the streets as temperatures drop below freezing.
Mario D’Agostino, El Paso’s deputy city manager, said the emergency declaration will also provide the city with additional transportation options to bus migrants to other locations, and additional help from state law enforcement.
As the number of migrants increased in late August, the city launched a bus program that sent nearly 14,000 migrants to New York and Chicago, saying many Venezuelans were arriving without US sponsors.
The city halted the program in October when the Biden administration began deporting Venezuelans back to Mexico under Title 42, but it could resume if Venezuelans are again allowed to cross into El Paso, D’Agostino said Thursday .
The US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on Friday rejected an attempt by a group of US states with Republican attorneys general to intervene in a lawsuit to keep Title 42 in place. The states could appeal to the US Supreme Court.
Reporting by Tim Reid and Ted Hessen Editing by Chris Reese and Michael Perry
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