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Mayor Confident City Will Be Reimbursed for Relief Costs

Humanitarian relief efforts in McAllen will cost local governments more than $1.1 million by the end of the year, officials said on Thursday. Law enforcement officials also praised the state security surge that began last month.

McALLEN — Humanitarian relief efforts being provided to the some of the undocumented immigrants seeking aid here will cost local governments more than $1.1 million if the crisis continues through the end of the year, officials here said on Thursday.

Mayor Jim Darling said he was more concerned about the fairness to local taxpayers, than he was about the dent the price tag will make in the city’s budget.

“Our general fund budget is a little more than $100 million,” he said. “I think we can sustain that. The question is: Is it fair to the taxpayers and will we get reimbursed.”

Since June 10, the parish at Sacred Heart Catholic Church has acted as a makeshift shelter where undocumented immigrants fleeing Central America have been offered food, water, clothing and minor medical care. The migrants are family units, mainly mothers and their young children, and not the tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors that have also arrived to the Rio Grande Valley in recent months.

While Darling said he was confident that local governments would be reimbursed for their efforts, local law enforcement officials said that increased state security operations are helping to alleviate some of the burden on border agencies that have been overwhelmed with the flow of immigrants across the nation's southern border.

More than half of the estimated cost for the migrants' care, about $605,000, will be borne by the city of McAllen, according to a breakdown provided by city and county officials.

Hidalgo County and the City of Weslaco will pay about $296,000 and $259,000, respectively. From June 6 to June 27 the entities spent more than $116,000.

The shelter is operated by Catholic Charities and most of the food, clothing and other goods are being donated by the community. Local governments are providing logistical support, transportation, equipment and security.

Darling said he was confident the local governments would be reimbursed by the federal government and that he would continue to speak with members of Congress. On Monday, the president announced he is seeking congressional approval for about $3.7 billion in emergency funding to address the influx.

Darling said that he respected President Obama’s decision to avoid the Rio Grande Valley during his trip to Texas this week. Such a visit would have cost taxpayers about $25,000, he said. Republicans, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, have repeatedly criticized Obama for going to Dallas and Austin for fundraisers and a speech while neglecting the border.

McAllen Police Chief Victor Rodriguez said the Texas Department of Public Safety's surge in operations in the area hasn’t interfered with the local police officers’ missions, as some had worried.

Last month, the Texas Republican leadership ordered the DPS to ramp up border security operations and gave the agency an additional $1.3 million per week for the increase patrols. Some local officials were concerned that the surge would result in a “militarization” of the border. But Rodriguez said the added enforcement is working.

“They [DPS] deploy where they need to be,” he said. “I think it’s an important piece of what’s going on right now to keep things in check given the fact that Border Patrol is really, really busy.”

Rodriguez said he believes the U.S. Border Patrol is now better able to shift its staffing and stabilize its operations after being initially being overwhelmed.

“As soon as they recognized the volume I think they adjusted,” he said. “They’ve also shipped in a couple of hundred people to assist.”

Rodriguez said he was not worried about so-called militia groups coming to the Texas-Mexico border. Rumors have swirled for weeks that groups that oppose immigration would be descending on South Texas, mainly Laredo and Webb County, to help secure the area. 

“This is not new for us,” he said. “They have not [created] an impact situation for anybody in the community so far. So long as that continues to be the case, they’ll exercise their rights like anybody else.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/07/10/mayor-confident-city-will-be-reimbursed-relief-cos/.

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