The mayor of the Texas border city of El Paso declared a state of emergency on Saturday, citing the hundreds of migrants who sleep on the streets in freezing temperatures and the thousands who are detained every day.
The mayor, Democrat Oscar Leeser, said the state of emergency would give city officials the resources and capacity to house migrants who have crossed the border into Mexico.
“We want to make sure people are treated with dignity. We want to make sure everyone is safe,” Leeser told reporters.
The move comes at a time when El Paso, a Democratic stronghold with a history of welcoming immigrants, has struggled in recent months with tens of thousands of migrants crossing the border with Mexico.
The city is bracing for a possible surge in immigrant arrivals after a U.S. judge ordered the end of COVID-era border restrictions, known as Title 42, by Dec. 21.
Under President Joe Biden, a Democrat who took office in January 2021, record numbers of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border have been apprehended, fueling criticism from Republican opponents who favor tougher policies.
U.S. border agents have encountered an average of more than 2,400 migrants a day on a 268-mile stretch of border known as the El Paso Sector over the past week, according to figures released by the city, a 40% increase compared to October.
As authorities move migrants from El Paso to other U.S. cities, local shelters are overwhelmed and migrants sleep on the street in sub-zero temperatures.
Faced with a surge in migrant arrivals in late August, the city launched a bus transportation program that sent nearly 14,000 migrants to New York and Chicago, claiming that many Venezuelans arrived without U.S. sponsors to fund their journey far from the border.
The city halted the program in October when the Biden administration began expelling Venezuelans back to Mexico under Title 42, but could restart it if Venezuelans are allowed to cross into El Paso again.