Several hundred asylum-seekers spent part of Christmas Eve in a downtown parking lot in El Paso, TX.
Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents began dropping off the migrants at a local bus station late Sunday without alerting local shelters. Nearly 400 migrants arrived Sunday and Monday and the total number could exceed 800 by Wednesday, according to U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso.
Normally ICE would alert a local shelter that has already taken in thousands of migrants, but that didn’t happen Sunday night, O’Rourke said.
“Our challenge is that, so far, ICE has been unable to give us enough of a heads up to have those beds ready so you don’t have migrants sitting on the sidewalk or in a parking lot or in a bus station or on a Sun Metro bus,” O’Rourke said.
O’Rourke said ICE usually gives local responders 24 hours’ notice to set up temporary shelters when permanent shelters are filled to capacity.
ICE’s actions come amidst a partial federal government shutdown over a budget dispute in Congress regarding funding for President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall.
ICE didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Monday and the U.S. Border Patrol’s El Paso division said Friday its public information offices would be closed during the shutdown.
This isn’t the first time ICE has dropped off migrants without alerting local agencies and shelters. In October, ICE announced it would no longer coordinate help for asylum-seeking families in Arizona.
O’Rourke said he and his staff have contacted ICE and Customs and Border Protection offices and are trying to ensure the migrants are placed at shelters or hotels until they can get to their final destinations.
“I know that the people that work with ICE, CBP and Annunciation House want to do what’s just, and I hope that [after] the conversations we’ve had and will have, we’ll be able to do what’s necessary,” O’Rourke said.
On Monday, several locals arrived near the bus station with water, food, clothing and toys for the children.
El Pasoan Javier Grajeda, an oil field engineer said he felt he wanted to help, especially given the chilly temperatures in the low 40s on Monday night.
“We brought a few blankets but that’s not enough,” he said. “It’s not right of them to do this on such short notice. There are volunteers, but they need enough time” to act.