El Paso’s mayor Oscar Leeser strangely stormed out of a press conference after being challenged over the city’s growing migrant crisis. The news comes as crews from a local outlet said they had seen migrants emerging from the city’s sewer system.
El Paso is currently struggling to cope with the release of roughly 1,600 migrants to local shelters and streets daily – a number which is expected to grow significantly this week.
The mayor, however, had resisted declaring a state of emergency in response to the crisis up until Saturday when he bowed to pressure over fears of more than 5,000 migrants arriving in the city everyday.
Mayor Leeser argued against declaring a state of emergency and said it would not free up more funds from FEMA, which will provide the city with $6 million to help alleviate the problem.
However, when city manager Mario D’Agostino disagreed with the mayor, he tried to walk off the stage, taking the microphone with him.
The row emerged amid reports from local station KVIA that the outlet’s reporters had seen “five or six people” lifting a manhole cover and emerging from the sewer in Segundo Barrio, a neighbourhood close to the border.
“They are not using the river anymore, they are using the water tunnels to come in,” resident Rosalina Tapia told the station earlier this year.
Ms Tapia said that she was considering buying a gun due to her fears about the presence of people smugglers in her area.
She added: ““It’s like an all-day, all-night thing. [Smugglers] picked our complex as a pickup zone.”
City manager Mario D’Agostino told the New York Post that El Paso authorities were aware of the reports.
“We’re in communication daily with our Customs and Border Patrol partners so they can increase patrols in that area because people are coming through, and we want to make sure they are getting census so they know who is entering,” said El Paso Deputy City Manager Mario D’Agostino.
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Despite the reports and the growing crisis at the southern border, mayor Leeser had continued to refuse to declare an emergency.
He said: “We were able to get the funding without having to. We can also get some assistance from the state without having to do that. Declaring a state of emergency, to me, was not an option. To be able to work with our partners was a great option.”
However, later in the presser, Mario D’Agostino seemed to contradict the mayor’s claims the no more funds would come with a declaration. He said: “That declaration allows the state to open additional funding outside of their normal budget.”
Mayor Leeser then ended the press conference and attempted to leave the stage while still holding the microphone.
Before the bizarre incident, he said the city was setting up outdoor toilets and water stations as well as offering migrants overnight hotel rooms because the county reception centre and shelters run by faith based groups have reached capacity.
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Upon declaring a state of emergency on Saturday, Leeser said he was moved by sights of people in the streets as temperatures dipped below freezing, according to a report in the New York Times.
Border Patrol saw around 2,500 migrants cross the shallow waters of the Rio Grande into El Paso per day last week, however that number is expected to climb as high as 5,000 per day when Title 42 expires.
Title 42 is a Trump-era Covid 19 policy which allows authorities to automatically expel around 40 percent of migrants illegally entering the country, however a federal court has ordered the policy to expire on December 21.
On December 11, around 1,500 migrants crossed into El Paso in a single mass crossing incident before lining up to turn themselves in to Border Patrol.
Many of the migrants were Nicaraguan asylum seekers who turned themselves in to authorities to legally claim asylum in the US.