El Paso officials fear migrant camp could spread infectious disease

EL PASO, Texas — Thousands of migrants crossing the border have overwhelmed the city, which admitted it had to unleash hundreds onto its streets in recent months when its shelters became overcrowded.

Those with nowhere to stay ended up camping outside shelters on the streets of El Paso – where temperatures recently dipped below freezing overnight – wrapped in blankets and huddled in tents and cardboard boxes.

The small camp may have been started by legally admitted asylum seekers who had been processed by the US government, but they soon attracted others who had snuck across the border illegally and were also looking for food. and shelter. By eating and sleeping in the same place, waste quickly accumulated around them.

The city has responded by regularly sending sanitary teams to clean up after them, fearing that the waste and unsanitary conditions could begin to spread infectious diseases.

El Paso health officials fear migrant camps on downtown streets could lead to “infectious diseases.”
James Keivom for NY Post

In one such cleanup witnessed by The Post on Wednesday, cop-backed cleanup crews moved people from their makeshift camps and forced migrants to throw away what little food and clothing they had , most of which had been donated by Good Samaritans and the shelters of El Paso. Devastated migrants saw authorities remove even the blankets protecting them from the freezing temperatures.

“They may not know or don’t know that we don’t take the covers off [to be mean] …what we’re trying to do is maintain health,” said Dr. Hector Ocaranza, the health authority for the city and county of El Paso.

“All those blankets, all those objects, things that accumulate in a specific area can be a risk of carrying infectious diseases or causing other problems. Even foods that are not in good condition can lead to health problems. Ultimately, this will hamper the journey process of migrants to their destination.

For days, migrants huddled under blankets in Texas, eating and sleeping with trash piling up around them.
For days, migrants huddled under blankets in Texas, eating and sleeping with trash piling up around them.
James Keivom for NY Post

Sanitation workers clean up trash at a makeshift camp near the Greyhound bus station in El Paso, Texas.


Sanitation workers clean up trash at a makeshift camp near the Grayhound bus station in El Paso, Texas.

The city has responded by regularly sending sanitary teams to clean up, fearing that the waste and unsanitary conditions could spread disease.


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But the migrants believe the treatment is cruel.

Alexson Garcia, a Venezuelan migrant who sleeps rough with his wife and two young children, said: “What could we do…we are here illegally. If we at least had documents, we could protest.

Garcia, 27, left Venezuela to seek asylum. Like thousands of others, he was waiting for Title 42 to end on December 21 to cross the southern border and apply for legal asylum. Instead, he found Title 42 — a policy that allows the US Border Patrol to deny entry to asylum seekers from certain locations — intact, and he was barred from entry.

Migrants who could not find a place to rest in a city bus parked in front of the Church of the Sacred Heart are sleeping on the sidewalk.
Migrants who could not find a place to rest in a city bus parked in front of the Church of the Sacred Heart are sleeping on the sidewalk.
James Keivom for NY Post

Garcia and her family decided not to wait for US courts and entered Texas illegally. Garcia’s lack of status means he cannot stay at one of the shelters that El Paso has opened in recent days to care for legal asylum seekers.

With no money to get to Miami, the place he wants, Garcia and his family sleep on the streets of downtown and take advantage of potties, hand-washing stations and parked city buses for warmth, all paid for by the city government using federal funds.

“We continue to keep our buses on site so people have a place to stay from the cold,” Deputy City Manager Mario D’Agostino said. “We also work with NGOs. We make sure fresh blankets come out.

A migrant holds his child outside the Church of the Sacred Heart in El Paso, Texas.

A migrant holds his child outside the Church of the Sacred Heart in El Paso, Texas.


Migrants board a bus to rest overnight near the Grayhound bus station in El Paso, Texas.

Migrants board a bus to rest overnight near the Grayhound bus station in El Paso, Texas.


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Cleanup teams, backed by cops, were seen moving people out of their makeshift camps and forcing migrants to throw away what little food and clothing they had.

Cleanup teams, backed by cops, were seen moving people out of their makeshift camps and forcing migrants to throw away what little food and clothing they had.


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Since mid-December, migrants have camped near the downtown Greyhound bus station as they attempt to continue their journey to the United States, initially because the city’s homeless shelters were full. On December 16, the mayor of El Paso issued a disaster declaration and turned his convention center into a 1,000-bed migrant shelter, which is still in use.

Texas’ sixth-largest city is currently at ground zero of the migrant crisis – with more people crossing the border into the United States in El Paso than anywhere else in the country.

With an increased risk of a resurgence of COVID-19, raging flu and a risk of other illnesses, health officials hope they can keep migrants in El Paso – the vast majority of whom will be heading to other cities of the United States – as in good health before continuing their journey.

Migrants use large art canvases to protect themselves from the rain outdoors.
Migrants use large art canvases to protect themselves from the rain.
James Keivom for NY Post

“It’s not like a form of aggression; it is a form of protection,” Ocaranza said.

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