EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – City officials and local non-profits on Aug. 1 launched new program called the “Welcome Center” to help bus migrants out of El Paso.
The Opportunity Center for the Homeless teamed up with the City of El Paso and several other non-profits to provide travel for individuals who ended up homeless after being released by federal officials.
The deputy director for the Opportunity Center, John Martin, said the “Welcome Center” was prompted by individuals showing up to the homeless shelter on their own.
“We noticed a number of individuals – who were migrants that had presented themselves legally at the border and then had subsequently been released – that were making their way here. They were walk-ins,” Martin said. “These are individuals who just showed up at our door.”
Martin said the Opportunity Center reached out to the El Paso Office of Emergency Management (OEM) for assistance.
“Those conversations started with OEM and they asked if we could provide support because they were informed that the processing center was over capacity and there was a potential that folks could be realized into the streets,” Martin said.
OEM sponsored a bus to take Venezuelan migrants to New York, which city officials say is reimbursable through FEMA.
“And that particular case, the vast majority of those individuals were from Venezuela and a lot of them, with the exception of two, their final destination was New York City,” Martin said.
However, city officials announced that they have begun working with the State of Texas to continue the process of busing migrants from South El Paso to places like New York City, and on Monday, members of the Texas State Guard could be seen at the “Welcome Center,” which is operating out of the Border Farm Workers Center in South El Paso.
In a statement Monday, Deputy City Manager Mario D’Agostino explained the most of the migrants don’t have sponsors, and their biggest need is travel arrangements out of El Paso.
For city officials, “this issue remains a humanitarian concern … due to the increasing number of migrants passing through the region, limited federal and local shelter capacities, and an increasing number of migrants that are not sponsored or have means to travel,” D’Agostino said.
Fernando Garcia, the executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights, stopped by the “Welcome Center” on Monday expressing concern over the state being involved.
“The Texas National Guard can only be convened and called and deployed by the governor of Texas and I am very disappointed and very worried that the city is working now with Mr. Abbott, Mr. Greg Abbott to bus migrants out of El Paso,” Garcia said.
A bus bound for Chicago was going to leave on Monday afternoon but was canceled because not enough of the migrants wanted to go to that destination.
One woman who traveled alone from Venezuela told KTSM 9 News she was hoping to catch the bus to Chicago and then try and get to Georgia.
“There are so many reasons to leave Venezuela,” she said of her home country. “There’s a lot of criminal activity, the lack of medicine, for injury or a flu. Those are the big reasons.”
Martin, with the Opportunity Center, admitted that the situation with the buses is fluid but said more are expected to leave to different destinations this week.