US city of El Paso 'at breaking point' amid migrant surge

Mayor Oscar Leeser says he is broadly supportive of President Joe Biden but warns the immigration system is under heavy strain

Desperate asylum seekers cross river between US and Mexico amid migrant surge

Desperate asylum seekers cross river between US and Mexico amid migrant surge
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The mayor of El Paso, Texas, has said his town is at “breaking point” as record numbers of migrants arrive claiming asylum, at a rate of 2,000 a day.

His remarks come as New York Mayor Eric Adams tightened shelter rules by limiting adult migrants to just 30 days in city-run facilities to help ease pressures on the city's already struggling shelter system and perhaps dissuade more migrants from coming.

“The city of El Paso only has so many resources and we have come to … a breaking point right now,” Mayor Oscar Leeser said at a news conference.

Migrant numbers from South and Central America had slackened this year, but recent weeks have seen a massive sharp rise in arrivals, particularly from Venezuela, which is experiencing a fresh economic crisis and a new outflow of economic migrants.

A group of 5,000 mostly Venezuelan migrants are currently en route to the US, travelling to the border illegally by hitching rides on slow-moving freight trains. Mexico’s biggest railway said it halted 60 freight trains in response to the rising trend.

The company, Ferromex, said so many migrants were hitching rides on the trains that it became unsafe to move the trains. The company said it had seen a “half dozen regrettable cases of injuries or deaths” in a span of just days.

The surge in asylum seekers is part of a larger swell of immigrants who travelled dangerous routes on buses and cargo trains to Mexican border towns near San Diego, California, and the Texas cities of El Paso and Eagle Pass.

Mr Lesser said El Paso plans to open a new shelter, and on Saturday chartered five buses to take migrants to New York, Chicago and Denver.

Republican governors in Texas and Florida have been criticised for sending migrants to cities perceived as liberal, such as New York and Sacramento. But Mr Leeser, a Democrat, said all of the migrants on the El Paso buses were going voluntarily to the cities of their choice.

Mr Leeser said President Joe Biden had been a good partner, but that the overall US immigration system was broken.

Many migrants from Venezuela, he said, lacked transportation to their desired destinations, while El Paso's current shelter houses only 400 people, and must also be available to help the homeless.

'Broken system'

As recently as six weeks ago, about 350 to 400 people were crossing into El Paso per day, but the past few days have brought 2,000 or more.

Over the past 10 days, the city has worked with the US Border Patrol to provide shelter for 6,500 people, Mr Leeser said.

About two thirds of those crossing into El Paso currently are single men, he said. About 32 per cent are families and just 2 per cent are unaccompanied children.

“I think it's really important to note that we have a broken immigration system,” he said. “It's the same thing over and over again.”

Migrants were stopped at Mexico's border with Texas 142,037 times during the first 17 days of September, up 15 per cent from 123,777 in the same period last month, according to US Customs and Border Protection figures released on Thursday by Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Those figures include up to 1,450 people admitted daily with a mobile app for asylum appointments, called CBP One, but the vast majority are illegal entries.

After rolling out CBP One this year, the US Department of Homeland Security touted the app as a key tool in creating a more efficient and orderly system at the border.

Mexican Foreign Minister Alicia Barcena said at a news conference in New York that migrant shelters in Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, are 95 per cent full. She said the Mexican government is “very worried” about the border closures and the increase in migrants.

Updated: September 26, 2023, 10:24 AM