EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The mayor of El Paso is declining to debate the merits of a City Council member’s allegation that he and other local leaders dragged their feet in issuing a disaster declaration over the migrant crisis.
“For months I called on Mayor Oscar Leeser to issue an emergency declaration and he refused. I challenged him and asked him, ‘Mayor, what’s a good number for you to decide to declare?’ And for months no answer,” said Councilwoman Claudia L. Rodriguez. “It was reckless of Oscar Leeser to wait until the last possible moment to declare a state of emergency, ignoring the recommendations of our city staff and holding the community hostage by a political game.”
Rodriguez alleges Leeser, U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, and County Judge Ricardo Samaniego resisted declaring a disaster and calling for state aid so as to not displease the White House.
“Leeser admitted to me that he wasn’t going to declare because Congresswoman Escobar asked him not to do it,” Rodriguez said. “Judge Samaniego asked him not to declare and the White House asked him not to do it. This to me was a betrayal to the people of El Paso by the top elected officials in our community. It was an irresponsible expenditure of our general fund.”
El Paso has spent $9.7 million in migrant services this year and been reimbursed $6 million by the federal government as of Thursday, according to the city’s Migrant Dashboard.
Border Report and KTSM reached out to the regional leaders alluded by Rodriguez and is awaiting a response.
Leeser on Thursday issued a statement in response to the allegations. He focused on the cooperation between various government officials and nonprofits to manage the release of thousands of migrants into the community in 2022.
“We have proven time and again in this community that we succeed when we work together, with one voice, not in a silo,” Leeser said. “I always said I would declare a state of emergency if and when it was merited in coordination with our partners, and I did.”
The federal government has pledged $10 million in “up-front” money for the migrant humanitarian crisis, which he said shields El Paso taxpayers.
Leeser said he will continue working with strategic partners and the newly elected City Council on the migrant crisis and other issues.
But Rodriguez, who lost a bid for reelection and won’t be part of the new council, said throwing federal money at the problem is not enough. She called on President Biden to visit the border.
“Our community has never seen a migrant crisis like the one we are experiencing in our region and in our nation. It is reckless that he (Biden) has not been to a border community ever; reckless that in our most dire moment, the president refuses to protect our community and keep Title 42 in place and forcing our city to figure out how to do the federal government’s job without funds or support,” Rodriguez said.
She also called on a reform of U.S. immigration laws to avoid further migrant crises. Title 42 is a public health order that a federal judge vacated effective Dec. 21 but the Supreme Court has stayed, likely through next June.
Later on Thursday, a second council member, Isabel Salcido, echoed Rodriguez’s call for Biden to visit the border and for Congress to pass immigration reform.
“We must stop putting band-aids on bullet wounds, which is how we have dealt with
immigration for the last thirty-six years. For months, I have been calling on Mayor Leeser to declare an emergency disaster declaration. I am thankful the Mayor finally declared one on December 17,” Salcido said. “Again, this is just a Band-aid. Governor Abbott’s Operation Lonestar is just a Band-aid. Title 42 is just a Band-aid. And the most recent Supreme Court ruling on Title 42 is also just a Band-aid.”
Rodriguez said she was aware that speaking out against Democratic leaders in deep-blue El Paso was a risky political move.
“I knew that by speaking out about what our community was facing, I would be attacked and would likely kill my political career, but I knew someone needed to be the voice of reason,” she said.