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Texas governor blames Biden for imperiling migrants ahead of arctic freeze

In a letter to the president, Governor Greg Abbott seemed genuinely concerned about the exposure of migrants in El Paso to dangerous cold. But critics say state authorities are making the situation worse by blocking asylum seekers from entering the city.

(CN) — Warning a polar vortex headed for Texas will put immigrants arriving in El Paso at risk of freezing to death on the city’s streets, Governor Greg Abbott called on President Joe Biden Tuesday to deploy federal assets to shelter them.

Texas has the longest border with Mexico of any U.S. state at 1,254 miles and the axis of the nation’s immigration dysfunction is currently at the western tip of the state in El Paso County, downtown in the city of El Paso to be exact.

Over the past 10 days, hundreds of asylum seekers have been queuing up along the Rio Grande in the city waiting to be processed by U.S. immigrant agents and released so they can travel on to reunite with family in other cities.

Their numbers increased as the Biden administration’s expected termination Wednesday of Title 42 approached.

But 19 Republican-led states, including Texas, convinced Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to issue a stay Monday, temporarily blocking Biden from ending the Trump-era policy opponents say has exploited concerns about immigrants spreading Covid-19 in the U.S. as grounds to deny them the fundamental right to seek asylum.

Since March 2020, the federal government has used the policy 2.5 million times to expel people without giving them a chance to apply for asylum, according to the Associated Press. It has mostly been applied to people from Mexico as well as Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, countries whose residents Mexico has agreed to take in, and the Biden administration expanded it in October to keep out Venezuelans.

The El Paso arrivals have overwhelmed shelters in the mountainous city that sits 3,740 feet above sea level, and inadequately clothed migrants sleeping outside on cold concrete in frigid temperatures led Mayor Oscar Leeser to declare a state of emergency Saturday.

In his letter to Biden, Abbott seemed to express genuine concern for these people, urging the president to “manage those who seek refuge here” so they are not left in “bitter, dangerous cold as a polar vortex moves into Texas.”

But some say Abbott, the fiercest critic among all Republican governors of the Democratic president's immigration policies, is needlessly complicating the efforts of the city, county, church groups, NGOs and local immigration authorities as they work together, along with empathetic residents, to provide clothes, blankets, hot meals and bus rides to other transportation hubs, including Houston and San Antonio, so they can catch flights on to their final destinations and not have to spend the night in El Paso’s overburdened shelters.

Abbott has deployed Texas National Guard soldiers and Department of Public Safety troopers to the concrete-laden banks of the Rio Grande in downtown El Paso where they are stationed on federal land, telling would-be immigrants with megaphones they cannot cross and directing them to ports of entry operated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, according to Dylan Corbett, executive director of the Hope Border Institute. The Catholic organization provides humanitarian aid to immigrants in both El Paso and its sister city across the border, Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.

“It was already a precarious situation with Title 42 for people who need protection,” Corbett said in an interview. “But this is going to complicate things. And there’s serious jurisdictional questions here now. You know, state authorities attempting to enforce immigration law on federal land, and potentially dissuading bona fide asylum seekers. That raises very serious questions.”

Corbett said shelters are full in Juarez, so if Texas authorities divert migrants to CBP ports of entry without the capacity to process them, they may be left out in the cold as the arctic front approaches that's expected to drop area temperatures as low as 20 degrees Fahrenheit on Thursday night into Friday morning with “near zero wind chills,” according to forecasts from the National Weather Service’s El Paso office.

A public relations officer for CBP's El Paso Sector did not respond by press time to a phone message asking if the agency is allowing Texas authorities to stop migrants from crossing into the city.

But Corbett said Abbott’s actions are not helping. “They don’t help migrants. They don’t help people who need protection from the cold. And it’s creating a burden and confusion for the local community here on the border.”

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