EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The City of El Paso is considering spending an additional $4 million to provide migrants free bus rides to their destination of choice, as more and more Venezuelans without sponsors continue crossing over from Mexico.
The U.S. Border Patrol on Monday said it has encountered a daily average of 650 migrants from Venezuela so far in September, most of whom walked across the dry bed of the Rio Grande from Juarez, Mexico, and surrendered to agents to request asylum. That comes out to 16,250 through the first 25 days of September. The agency in July apprehended 611 Venezuelans in El Paso and 3,533 in August, U.S. Customs and Border Protection data shows.
The Venezuelans make up a large portion of the 1,560 total daily apprehensions being reported in the sector, which includes Hudspeth and El Paso counties and all of New Mexico. But while other nationalities may be subject to immediate expulsion to Mexico under the Title 42 public health order. Also, the socialist government of Venezuela won’t allow repatriation flights, hence, many Venezuelan single adults and families that cross into the United States are being released with notices to appear in U.S. immigration court later.
The City of El Paso has stepped in with personnel and a building to process released migrants without sponsors. The Venezuelans passing through El Paso don’t have an established support network or relatives immediately willing to pay for their trips to the interior of the country, hence the free busing.
Earlier this month, the city council approved $2 million for a charter bus contract and will debate an additional $4 million contract with a charter bus services provider on Tuesday. City officials on Friday told KTSM they are spending an average of $250,000 a day – or up to $1.75 million per week – on busing, feeding, sheltering, and staff salaries to assist migrants.
The city’s first transport left on Aug. 23 and more than 60 additional buses have left El Paso to New York and Chicago, but with migrants able to step off at any point in the journey. Border Report has interviewed migrants whose plans included reaching Dallas and Atlanta, for instance.
City officials say the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is advancing $2 million for future immigration costs and has been billed for $3 million in past expenses.
But three city representatives last week sent a letter to El Paso Mayor Oscar Lesser to issue a full disaster declaration considering a migrant surge whose costs the city is fronting until or if fully reimbursed by the Biden administration.
“The money we’ve been promised is not here and even the $2 million […] that’s just to move forward, that’s not the reimbursement for the $3 million that we’ve already spent in general fund money,” City Rep. Claudia Rodriguez told KTSM.
Leeser said a full emergency declaration is premature.
“This is a federal issue which we are working with the federal government to address along with many partners,” Leeser said in a statement in response to the councilors. The migrants “stay in our community between 24 to 48 hours and we help them reach their destination if they don’t have a sponsor.”
El Paso a ‘pull factor’ for Venezuelans?
Why Venezuelans began zeroing in on El Paso as an entry point into the United States remains in question. Prior to September, their preferred crossing point was Del Rio, Texas, said Ariel Ruiz, policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.
“In August, almost 80 percent of Venezuelans were arriving in Del Rio,” Ruiz said. “Clearly one of the things that perhaps is being an incentive in Venezuelan migrants arriving in El Paso is word-of-mouth and networking and obviously some of the smugglers trying to find the path of least resistance to the U.S. But there’s also the pull factor in some places, and that’s the perception of migrants that El Paso is more receptive, more welcoming as opposed to other parts of the border.”
In El Paso, for instance, officials have made clear they will only bus migrants where they want to go. In Del Rio, the state of Texas has taken migrants to destinations like Washington, D.C., where some migrants told local media they did not want to go or were promised non-existent jobs.
“I don’t want to make this a partisan issue, but if you’re a Venezuelan migrant and you’ve traveled thousands of miles to the U.S. border, you’re going to try to figure out where you will be most welcome,” Ruiz said. “If El Paso is reporting it will be increasing funding (for busing) it’s a clear signal for many folks it’ll be easier to (reach their goal) there.”