The situation at the plaza
Hundreds of migrants, mostly from Venezuela, are occupying El Paso’s San Jacinto Plaza, a popular tourist attraction in downtown El Paso. They are sleeping on benches, sidewalks, and grass, with their belongings scattered around them. Some have tents, blankets, or cardboard boxes to shield them from the cold.
The migrants say they have nowhere else to go, as the shelters in the city are full or have strict rules that prevent them from coming and going as they please. They also say they receive more help from generous El Pasoans who bring them food, water, clothes, and other necessities than from the shelters or the government.
The migrants are part of a surge of asylum seekers who have crossed the border in recent months, fleeing violence, poverty, and political turmoil in their home countries. Many of them have been released by the Border Patrol with notices to appear in immigration court, but they face long waits and uncertainty about their future.
The impact on the community
The presence of hundreds of migrants at the plaza has raised concerns among some El Paso residents and businesses, who say the situation is unsanitary, unsafe, and unattractive. They worry about the health and welfare of the migrants, as well as the potential impact on the local economy and tourism.
“It’s heartbreaking to see all the migrants asking for money, asking for food,” said one anonymous El Pasoan. “I don’t know that this situation is gonna get better anytime soon.”
Some residents have also expressed frustration with the federal government’s handling of the migrant surge, saying that El Paso is bearing the brunt of a national problem that requires more resources and coordination.
“We need more help from the federal government, from the state government, from the local government,” said another anonymous El Pasoan. “We need more shelters, more buses, more humanitarian aid. We can’t do this alone.”
The response from the authorities
The city of El Paso has said that it is working with various agencies and organizations to address the needs of the migrants and the community. It has opened an emergency shelter at the El Paso Convention Center, where it can accommodate up to 1,000 migrants. It has also started bussing migrants to other major cities, such as Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio, where they can find more shelter options and connect with relatives or sponsors.
The city has also deployed police officers, health workers, and sanitation crews to the plaza, to ensure the safety and cleanliness of the area. It has also installed portable toilets, hand-washing stations, and trash bins for the migrants.
The city has urged the migrants to use the shelter at the convention center, or to seek other alternatives, such as churches, hotels, or relatives. It has also asked the public to donate to local organizations that are assisting the migrants, rather than giving them money or items directly.
The city has said that it respects the rights of the migrants to stay at the plaza, as long as they do not violate any laws or ordinances. However, it has also said that it will not tolerate any criminal activity or disorderly conduct, and that it will enforce the rules and regulations of the plaza.
The outlook for the future
The migrant surge is expected to continue in the coming months, as more people from Central and South America seek refuge in the United States. The Biden administration has said that it is committed to creating a more humane and orderly immigration system, but that it will take time and cooperation from Congress and other countries.
The administration has also warned the migrants not to come to the border now, saying that the majority of them will be turned back or expelled under a public health order that was imposed by the previous administration due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The migrants at the plaza, however, say they have no choice but to seek asylum in the United States, as they have fled from persecution, violence, and hardship in their home countries. They say they are willing to wait and hope for a chance to start a new life in America.
“I came here to find a better future for my family,” said Eduardo, a Venezuelan migrant who was staying at the plaza with his brother, wife, and kids. “I know it’s hard, but I have faith that God will help us.”