EL PASO, Texas — Hours before a Louisiana federal judge ordered the Biden administration to keep the Title 42 health authority in place, El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego met with officials from the Department of Homeland Security to discuss what he described as a looming “crisis.”
“Right now, Title 42 would be difficult for us … if it gets lifted,” Samaneigo told The Post.
On Friday night, US District Judge Robert Summerhays ruled that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had improperly ordered the lifting of Title 42, a federal health policy that has kept nearly 2 million immigrants out of the country since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US.
The authority had been set to expire Monday, and Republican attorneys general from 24 states, including Texas, had argued that cities like El Paso would be overrun with immigrants beyond what they can handle.
While Summerhays’ nationwide injunction was welcome in El Paso and other border cities, Title 42 will go away at some point. Even with the authority in place, the number of attempted border crossings had reached record levels.
Earlier this week, DHS reported that the number of migrant encounters along the US-Mexico border had soared to 234,088 in April — the most in the agency’s history. Just under 97,000 people had been summarily expelled under Title 42 and more than 110,000 more were released into the US. Almost 30,000 of those encounters were recorded by Border Patrol agents in the El Paso sector, making it the third-busiest enforcement area along the frontier.
The prospect of hundreds of thousands more migrants trying to cross the border (One widely reported estimate by DHS suggested as many as 18,000 per day would attempt to come in) left local officials scrambling for sites big enough to hold the expected arrivals. At one meeting, Samaniego floated the Sun Bowl stadium as a possible location for a shelter.
There were other practical considerations to take into account as well. The local governments had to figure out how to get more volunteers in place to process the immigrants who arrive in El Paso bound for the interior of the US. The county judge also said Friday his office was looking into getting a machine that can convert dollar bills into a temporary credit card, so cash-carrying immigrants who intend to leave El Paso can buy plane tickets at the airport.
What El Paso doesn’t want is dozens of immigrant dumped onto the streets, Samaneigo admitted.
“The optics are very difficult. Communities sort of panic,” he said. “They feel it’s not safe anymore. El Paso is really developing as a place you want to come to. Tourism is starting to develop. People always comment how you don’t see homeless on the streets. So we’re going to go from that to seeing people sleeping on the streets.”
But immigrants are already part of life in El Paso. At one of the best-known restaurants in the area, illegal immigrants ran past the free-range chicken coops as Border Patrol gave chase Friday morning.
Eventually, 15 immigrants were taken into custody in the parking lot of Ardovino’s Desert Crossing. In the shadow of of the border wall, El Pasoans will sip on prickly pear mimosas and dine on duck egg chilaquiles for brunch as Border Patrol agents watch for illegal crossers just a few yards away.
Alejandro Huerta lives less than a mile from the restaurant. His house is at bottom of Mt. Cristo Rey, a mountain that separates El Paso from Mexico.
“What haven’t I seen in my years here?” Huerta told The Post Friday. “The thing that comes to mind is two women who came down the hill recently — completely naked, crying and hunched over.”
Huerta, who was born in Mexico and spoke to The Post in Spanish, says the women crossed the border by going over the mountain, where criminals are known to lie in wait for immigrants and prey on them. Huerta says the women had been robbed, stripped and raped. He and his wife clothed them and called Border Patrol.
In the past year, Huerta said, he’s seen more and more immigrants stopping on his front step to ask for water when it’s hot, and a cup of coffee when it’s cold.
“What I know about Title 42 is that people have the right to ask for asylum. Now, whether the (US) government gives them asylum is a different story,” Huerta said. “If (Title 42) ends, all of Latin America will be coming here.”