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Officials: Immigration Crisis Not Yet a Disaster

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Posted: Jun 23, 2014 6:43 PM

Updated: Jun 30, 2014 3:07 PM

McALLEN - Local governments have not spent enough in the illegal immigration crisis to meet the criteria for a disaster declaration, officials said.

Officials said it is much easier to get help from the state. Getting funds from the federal government takes a much longer process, they said.

Local officials said they have to provide services to the illegal immigrants being released from Border Patrol custody.

"If we don't help them ... then it becomes a problem at the bus station. They'll start walking around and we're going to have a lot of calls. There is a need on the part of the city and the county to step in and assist," said Oscar Montoya, emergency management coordinator for Hidalgo County.

The resources being used are meant for emergencies.

"This presents as situation that can fairly be called an emergency one as it relates to human needs to people who are here and treats people in a way that all humane Americans would like to see occur," state Sen. Wendy Davis said.

The problem lies in the definition of a disaster or emergency. The state's emergency management office defines emergencies and disasters as follows:

  • An emergency is the occurrence or imminent threat of a condition, incident or event that requires immediate response actions to save lives; prevent injuries; protect property, public health, the environment and public safety; or to lessen or avert the threat of a disaster.
  • A disaster is the occurrence or imminent threat of widespread or severe damage, injury, or loss of life or property resulting from any natural or man-made cause.

"The federal government should absolutely foot this bill," Davis said.

The surge in illegal immigration has not yet met the criteria for a disaster.

"Just as we help after other disasters, we can and should help our border communities during this time," Davis said.

Changing the word from emergency to disaster would mean the area could get state or federal money.

"Right now we have a lot of people who are willing to help. As this wears off, if this operation goes on for six months, can we sustain it at the place it is?" Montoya said.

The governor can declare a state of disaster. He's already sending more resources by allocating $1.3 million a week for DPS to ramp up border enforcement.

A federal disaster is much harder to prove. Hidalgo County would have to show a $2.7-million loss to qualify. They haven't spent that much.

Even if they could prove that loss, they must adhere to the following rules:

  • The mayor or county judge must send a letter to the governor requesting a disaster. - They must prove the incident is beyond local capability to handle.
  • If the damage is beyond what the state of Texas can handle, the state contacts FEMA.
  • An assessment begins.
  • The governor writes to the president.

"What we would like to come out of this is for the federal government or the state to attack problems as they see them," Montoya said.

Texas Emergency Management Executive Guide

FEMA Public Assistance: Preliminary Damage Assessment

Government Code: Emergency Management

Topics: immigration, border patrol, oscar montoya, mcallen, crisis, hidalgo county

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