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El Paso County, Texas sues federal government

El Paso and Juarez in the background at dusk

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El Paso County, Texas sues federal government over border emergency declaration, fearing reputation and economy

Fearing that the federal government will seize private property in order to build a border wall, El Paso County, Texas sued the federal government Feb. 20, seeking to block President Trump’s declared national emergency regarding the nation’s border with Mexico. The president declared the emergency Feb. 15, saying that a wall is necessary to keep out drugs, gangs and other criminals.

El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said the emergency declaration “will further damage El Paso County’s reputation and economy, and we are determined to stop this from happening.” With a population of 800,000, the county sits on the Rio Grande directly along the southern U.S. border.

“El Paso has always been a generous and welcoming community,” Samaniego said. “El Paso County is one of the safest communities in the United States.”

Speaking before Samaniego and four county commissioners at a hearing Feb. 25, Ruben Garcia, executive director of Annunciation House, a nonprofit shelter for migrant families seeking asylum, said that the declared emergency should be about the number of people who are being dropped off in the streets by the federal government, after it’s determined they can seek asylum in the United States.

Fernando Garcia, director of the Border Network for Human Rights, also addressed the county judge and commissioners Feb. 25.

“When people came to Ellis Island, many, many years ago, we didn’t declare a national emergency,” he said. “We built infrastructure to welcome them. The county and the city should be thinking about the role you have for the next few years. Opening welcoming centers — why not? Opening an immigration department run by the county. We need your institutional support.”

“If there’s a crisis, it’s not the one that Trump is talking about,” he said. “What we do have is a challenge. A challenge that is not unique — people coming from around the world…the problem we have is we are not really moving forward to deal with that phenomena in a sustained way.” Samaniego said he applauds “the efforts of El Pasoans, community groups, non-profits and volunteers that have provided shelter and assistance to asylum seekers. Ultimately, however, the responsibility to provide basic assistance should fall on the federal government and not the local community.”

Late last week, the county judge and commissioners were scheduled to discuss the county’s legal rights and responsibilities regarding the community impact of the release by ICE of migrant children and families. They were also expected to discuss and take action to authorize the county or its chief administrator to use county resources to respond to the release of migrant families by ICE.

Others suing the federal government over the border wall matter include the state of California, the Sierra Club and the American Civil Liberties Union.

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