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El Paso is dealing with a surge of migrants crossing the southern U.S. border


Right now, the city of El Paso is the focal point for a surge of migrants crossing into the U.S. from Mexico, and it could soon double or triple in size if the public health order known as Title 42, issued at the start of the pandemic, is allowed to expire on Wednesday. El Paso's mayor declared a state of emergency over the weekend, but officials there say they need more support from the federal government. Tommy Gonzalez is one of those officials. He's El Paso city manager. I asked him yesterday to describe how it's all unfolding there.

TOMMY GONZALEZ: Well, the numbers are pretty large. And what we've been doing is as they get processed by CBP, they are brought to bus stations, and they're brought to the airport. And we send out roving teams to work with them to get them the transportation that they need. Some are waiting for their family members or their friends because they don't all get processed at the same time. So it's a variety of things. And so we do have a large number of migrants, and so we have had some on the street. And so we are very aware of that and very cognizant to ensure that we work as vigorously as possible to give them options so that they are out of the streets because it's very cold right now.

MARTÍNEZ: Title 42 is expected to lift on Wednesday. How much of what you're doing now is getting ready for Wednesday or the possibility of what will happen after Wednesday?

GONZALEZ: What we've been doing is really pressing our local state and federal officials that we just need more resources. I know that this issue is very sensitive, you know, on a lot of different fronts. But we were just focusing on the fact that we need more resources because when Title 42 does lift, we need to have the means for food, processing and being able to shelter and/or have holding areas in order for us to then get them to buses, if that's going to be their mode of transportation, or getting them to the airport. We have asked the federal government - to all the federal officials that we've spoken to, especially the appointed officials - that if they could open up federal facilities like Fort Bliss - I mean, this is no different, we told them, than - in terms of numbers - than the Afghani situation that happened not too long ago. And Fort Bliss was opened up for that because we're talking about thousands upon thousands of people that are crossing daily now.

MARTÍNEZ: How close are you to just turning your eyes to Washington and say, look, we can't handle any more.

GONZALEZ: We're not going to give up on what we're doing. However, we have been saying how important it is to have these resources lined up because the numbers are increasing daily. And as far as telling them what we need, we've been communicating what we need, and we've been doing it through the proper channels. We don't want to get involved in the chatter, if you will, or the noise. The thing is, we have work to do, and it's not going to change, you know. Unless a lot of policy changes happen, these numbers are not going to go away. It's only going to get larger.

MARTÍNEZ: Meanwhile, while all this is happening, Tommy, you also have to take care of the 670,000 residents of El Paso. What have you been hearing from the citizens of El Paso in terms of just dealing with what you're dealing with and also just running the city day to day?

GONZALEZ: Well, we have a very compassionate community. However, we have heard concerns from a variety of fronts. And in terms of security, where there's been reports where we've had migrants that are crossing that are going into neighborhoods and things like that because they're not crossing through the normal process. And so they're just - really just - it's all over. It's getting to where it's going to other parts of the city. Anytime you have a large number of people, no matter what they are, you know, whether it's me, you, Black, white, brown, purple, or in this case, migrants, you have a large influx of people, people are going to be concerned about - for their security.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Tommy Gonzales, city manager of El Paso, Texas. Tommy, thanks a lot.

GONZALEZ: Absolutely. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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