Oscar Leeser and several city officials held a press conference earlier today to address the influx of migrants and the costs to the El Paso taxpayers. According to city officials, El Paso taxpayers have spent $9.5 million so far this year addressing the migrant influx in El Paso. Title 42, a health directive that allows the federal government to expel undocumented immigrants at the border under a health emergency is expected to be lifted on December 21. Under Title 42, undocumented migrants can be deported back to México without being processed to determine their eligibility to be in the country. The end of Title 42 will lead to a larger surge on migrants crossing the border in El Paso.
Of the almost $10 million in taxpayer funds that the city has spent on addressing the federal problem, the federal government has reimbursed the city’s taxpayers only $2.2 million, leaving El Paso taxpayers footing the $7.8 million the city has spent to date. According to the city’s frequently asked questions about the “migrant crisis,” the city’s taxpayers are expected to fund “up to $250,000 daily” to address the influx of migrants.
City officials also recently created the “Migrant Situational Awareness Dashboard” to track the number of migrants encountered by city officials and the costs associated with them. As of today, the dashboard shows that the city’s taxpayers have spent $9.5 million but have only been reimbursed $2.2 million.
Once Title 42 is removed, it is expected that the number of migrants transiting through El Paso will increase significantly.
Oscar Leeser held a press conference to earlier today to comment on the “crisis in our hands,” as he said during the city conference. During the conference, Leeser stated that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has agreed to commit “$6 million additional funding, upfront” to the city. Leeser added that the city received “$3.7 from third-quarter.”
It is important to note that a “commitment” from FEMA is not a guarantee of payment. The announcements that FEMA would be making payments to El Paso did not disclose where the funding would come from. FEMA uses the Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP) to help communities like El Paso defray the costs associated with the migrants transiting through the city. Currently there is a bill – H.R. 9170 – pending before the House of Representatives asking the House members to support adding an additional $50 million to the EFSP for fiscal year 2023.
In November, the Biden administration asked Congress to provide $130 million in EFSP funding and an additional $24 million in “humanitarian assistance.” FEMA was appropriated $150 million for the current fiscal year.
It is unclear if there is enough FEMA funding to meet its commitments to communities across the nation. El Paso is not the only community seeking federal funding to alleviate the burden on the local taxpayers because of the migrant surge. New York City is anticipating spending up to $1 billion just in housing for its migrants. In October, NYC mayor, Eric Adams declared a state of emergency to address the local burden on the taxpayers from the migrant crisis.
Oscar Leeser, on the other hand, has refused to declare an emergency.
Earlier this year the city was offered $1 million by the Department of Homeland Security to help address the flow of migrants. However, according to Veronica Escobar, the city refused the money. Laura Cruz-Acosta speaking for the city told KFOX that the “city didn’t need the money.”
In September, city representatives Claudia Rodriguez, Isabel Salcido and Cissy Lizarraga signed a letter urging Leeser to declare an emergency to allow the city to access “much-needed state and federal resources.” Rodriguez is in a runoff election to keep her seat. The election is Saturday.
Leeser told the El Paso Times then that it is “premature after the federal government fronted $2 million in funding to the city.” As of today, the city has only received $2.2 million of the $9.52 million it says it has spent on migrants this year.
In response to Leeser’s statement that FEMA would reimburse El Paso’s taxpayers, Rodriguez and Salcido told the newspaper that “El Paso taxpayers keep hearing ‘the check is in the mail’ from the federal government.”
In today’s press conference, Leeser again refused to issue an emergency declaration. Instead, Leeser said that “by staying the course,” the city has received funding without having to declare the emergency. At Leeser’s press conference it was stated that El Paso will be receiving $3.7 million and an additional $6 million. It was clarified, however, that the $9.7 million are “not in the bank, yet” said deputy city manager Mario D’Agostino at the press conference. Both D’Agnostino and city manager Tommy Gonzalez were clear in that they believe that Leeser should declare the emergency to be better prepared for the removal of Title 42.
As explained during the press conference, Title 42 allowed migrants who are not sponsored by family members already in the United States from entering the country. If Title 42 is removed, as expected, all migrants seeking asylum into the United States will be processed and released into the city. The migrants will need to make their way to their destination, while El Paso taxpayers will pay for any fees in security, housing or meals that would be needed for the migrants. Transportation out of the city would also be footed by El Paso taxpayers should it be needed.
Claudia Rodriguez also spoke at Leeser’s press conference. Rodriguez said that “I have called on the mayor, repeatedly, to declare a disaster emergency, and it is completely up to him to do so.” “Doing so would bring additional resources,” Rodriguez said. She added that the additional money announced by Leeser “is promised,” but the city “has not yet received it.”
Leeser acknowledged that the funding is a commitment only, but that it is guaranteed. Leeser also agreed that the city is facing a “crisis,” but he did not feel it was necessary to declare the emergency.
City representative Isabel Salcido added that she still “urged” Leeser to declare the emergency “to be prepared.”
This is a developing story. Stay with El Paso News for new developments as they happen.
Disclosure: Candidate Claudia Rodriguez contracted technical support from the author’s technology company. These services are provided separately from the publication and have no influence on our reporting.