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El Paso struggles to cope with surge in refugee, migrant arrivals

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Thousands of refugees and migrants are relentlessly crossing the United States border from Mexico, overwhelming the city of El Paso in the state of Texas. The situation has reached a critical point, leaving President Joe Biden’s administration grappling to manage this influx of people.

Officials reported that nearly 9,000 individuals made the perilous journey on Saturday alone, marking one of the highest rates of arrivals in recent memory.

Oscar Leeser, the mayor of El Paso, disclosed that the number of asylum seekers in the city has skyrocketed to over 2,000 per day, a stark increase from the 350-400 individuals arriving just six weeks ago. This rapid rise is straining local resources and filling up shelters.

Over the past ten days, El Paso has worked in collaboration with the US Border Patrol to provide shelter for approximately 6,500 people, according to Mayor Leeser. In a news conference, he expressed the city’s dire situation, stating, “The city of El Paso only has so many resources, and we have come to … a breaking point right now.”

The surge of asylum seekers primarily hails from countries like Venezuela, Honduras, and Haiti, and they have endured perilous journeys on buses and cargo trains to reach Mexican border towns near El Paso and Eagle Pass in Texas, as well as San Diego in California. Most are seeking opportunities or escaping hunger, violence, or political instability in their home nations.

While the number of people seeking asylum in the US had seen a decline following new restrictions announced in May, this recent dramatic increase has caught the Biden administration off guard. Eagle Pass has declared a state of emergency to address the ongoing crisis, with Democratic leaders urging more relief for cities hosting asylum seekers, while Republicans are making this a focal point in the lead-up to the 2024 presidential election.

Mayor Leeser announced on Saturday that El Paso intends to open a new shelter. Additionally, five buses were chartered to transport asylum seekers to cities including New York, Chicago, and Denver. Responding to criticism, Leeser clarified that all migrants on these buses were choosing their destinations voluntarily.

While Mayor Leeser acknowledged President Biden as a good partner, he emphasized that the overall US immigration system remains deeply flawed. Many migrants from Venezuela, he noted, lacked transportation to reach their desired destinations. El Paso’s shelters can only house 400 people and must also cater to the homeless population. Currently, approximately two-thirds of those crossing into El Paso are single men, with 32 percent being families and 2 percent unaccompanied children.

Amid escalating tensions in Texas, the Biden administration has deployed 800 troops to the border in addition to the 2,500 National Guard members already stationed there. Special programs have been initiated to process asylum and visa requests in migrants’ home countries, with promises of consequences for those not adhering to the rules, including deportations and expulsions.

Furthermore, the administration has extended temporary legal status to approximately 472,000 Venezuelans who arrived in the US as of July 31, making it easier for them to work in the country. On Saturday, US Homeland Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas met with Honduran President Xiomara Castro in Texas to discuss a bilateral strategy aimed at curbing migration. Mayorkas pledged to crack down on those who circumvent designated pathways to enter the US, emphasizing the importance of disrupting smuggling networks.

President Castro attributed the outflow of people from Honduras to violence by criminal organizations, stating, “I believe that in our history, we have never seen an exodus of entire families from our country, seeking opportunities, due to the levels of violence.”

In Eagle Pass, which declared a state of emergency, US authorities have fortified the border with barbed wire to deter crossings. A military convoy was observed at the scene on Saturday, reinforcing the fence gaps made by earlier arrivals. Nevertheless, many asylum seekers, who have embarked on arduous journeys covering thousands of kilometers on foot, remain undeterred. They have managed to breach the barriers, demonstrating their unwavering determination to seek a better life in the United States.

As one 17-year-old Venezuelan, Dileidys Urdaneta, put it, “This here is nothing. Because what we have experienced, what we have gone through, is much worse. And what we left behind – don’t even mention it. Now, it can only get better.”

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