The White House pressured the Democratic mayor of El Paso, Texas, to not declare a state of emergency over the city’s migrant crisis due to fear it would make President Biden look bad, The Post has learned.
At least three of the El Paso City Council’s eight members have urged Mayor Oscar Leeser to issue an emergency declaration in response to the thousands of migrants who’ve filled the city’s shelters and are being housed in local hotels, sources familiar with the matter said.
But Leeser admitted during a private phone conversation last month that he’d been directed otherwise by the Biden administration, one of the officials told The Post.
“He told me the White House asked him not to,” Council member Claudia Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez also said Leeser has repeatedly assured her that he’d declare a state of emergency “if things got worse” — without saying what that meant.
US Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas), whose district covers rural areas and border towns near El Paso, also said he heard similar accounts from other city officials.
“It is a sleight of hand what the administration is doing — pressuring the local government to not issue a declaration of emergency, to say as if everything is going OK,” he said.
Gonzales also alleged that the White House has done “the same thing in other parts of my district,” which have also seen huge numbers of migrants seeking refuge.
Leeser declined to speak with The Post but said in a prepared statement, “I don’t bow to pressure from any side.”
“I make decisions based on current circumstances and in the best interest of the citizens of El Paso,” the statement said.
Leeser also praised the federal government for providing his city with “critical” assistance.
At a Sept. 27 City Council meeting, Mayor Leeser also addressed the issue, saying Congresswoman Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) had urged him not to declare a State of Emergency, adding: “The White House has asked, at this point, for us not to do that and they’ll continue to work with us and continue to give us … money through [the] Federal Emergency Management Agency.”
Figures posted on El Paso’s official website show the city has received only $2 million in federal reimbursements toward the $8 million it has spent dealing with the migrant crisis.
The total cost could end up being much more, with ElPasomatters.org reporting in September the city was spending as much as $300,000 a day to shelter, feed and transport asylum-seeking immigrants.
In May, The Post first reported how officials in El Paso were considering declaring a state of emergency ahead of the expected ending of pandemic-related expulsions of border-crossers under Title 42 of the federal Public Health Services Act.
The move would have made the city and county eligible for state and federal funding to open additional shelters for housing migrants.
But the following day, El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said that “the mayor and I backed off,” telling The Post that “we found out that there’s very little difference between the funding we’re getting now and the funding that we would get if it went up to the governor and the governor sent it to President Biden.”
At the time, about 700 migrants a day were arriving in El Paso.
But that number topped 2,100 a day last week before dropping down to around 1,600 a day, according to the latest information posted Monday on the city’s website.
Between April and mid-September more than 62,000 migrants had crossed the border at El Paso alone.
El Paso has relocated more than 10,000 migrants by bus to New York City since August, with Lesser revealing at a public meeting last month that he got a green light to do so from Mayor Eric Adams.
The front cover of the New York Post for Oct. 18, 2022.
Adams has denied that assertion and publicly called on Leeser to end the program earlier this month, saying “New York cannot accommodate the number of buses that we have coming here to our city.”
The Oct. 7 appeal came the same day Hizzoner declared a state of emergency in the Big Apple over its migrant crisis.
But the buses have continued rolling to the city from El Paso, most recently on Sunday.
Leeser has said that most of the migrants flooding El Paso come from Venezuela.
In recent days, migrants have been able to simply walk across the dried-up Rio Grande, surrender to US Customs and Border Protection officials and get released after saying they intend to seek political asylum.
Last week, the US and Mexican governments announced a deal under which Venezuelans who cross into the US would be sent back to Mexico.
But border sources told The Post that the agreement was only being enforced in a small number of cases.
The White House didn’t immediately return a request for comment.