EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego shared his experience visiting migrant shelters as journalists have not been allowed entrance into the facilities.
The region continues to be a cross point for refugees entering the U.S. through the Southwestern border with Mexico.
Samaniego says he has visited two separate facilities, one located at Fort Bliss for unaccompanied migrant children on April 5 and local hotels being used for migrant families on April 13.
“It’s difficult and I can tell you it’s not sustainable. Other things have to happen,” Samaniego said.
He says the majority of children at the shelter on Fort Bliss were between the ages of 14 and 17 and there were approximately 1,200. The children were able to get clothes, shower and play soccer, he added.
“I asked them do you feel threatened? Do you feel that you are in a difficult situation? Has anything happened that you dislike,” said Samaniego.
Saying none of the youths expressed any issues with treatment.
The county judge said the children were experiencing problems with their feet, stomachs, and teeth.
“It’s surreal because everything that they have gone through they have immense problems with their feet with their stomach, really difficult challenges and yet it would be like going to a high school retreat they were very open very approachable,” said Samaniego. “I reached out to UMC to see if we could assist in any way, if not Texas Tech if not from an advisory capacity,” said Samaniego.
At the hotels where migrants are being housed, Samaniego says between two hotels there are 300 rooms available but explains that the migrants staying in the hotels in El Paso are still in the detention process.
“Hotels are actually an extension of the detention. It’s not different they’re still in a detention process before they go out,” said Samaniego.
He said the goal is to keep individuals, families and children out of the border patrol detention facilities as much as possible as resources are limited.
“They do the best they can but they’re very limited and they don’t have the flexibility of what’s happening at the hotels,” said Samaniego.
Migrants staying at the hotels are being tested for COVID-19 and those who test positive are moved to a different area from the others, he added.
As for El Paso County Funds going towards providing hotels for migrants, Samaniego says it is federally funded and actually takes a burden off of El Paso immigration groups who used to rely on donors.
“It’s federally funded there’s no money coming in from the county, I mean there’s collateral things we try to do help,” said Samaniego.
Samaniego says the process of housing migrants in the El Paso community goes in many ways unnoticed by El Pasoans themselves. Saying COVID-19 is a concern with the number of migrants coming into our community which is why he urges everyone to still wear a mask and social distance.
“Because were a unique community because we have this influx of individuals we have to continue,” said Samaniego.