In response to the ongoing crisis at the southern border, the City of McAllen began setting up tents as temporary emergency shelters late Tuesday night. 

By Wednesday morning, local citizens took notice. 

Located in an empty lot on 23rd Street and Buddy Owens Boulevard, and only blocks from the public library, the area features several large gray tents the city says it erected to “mitigate emergency health and safety risks.” 

“Despite the City of McAllen and its community partners’ best efforts, the sheer number of immigrants being released into the city had become a crisis: a crisis the City of McAllen did not create and has proactively tried to avoid for seven years. Now, with the drastic, unexpected increase of immigrants arriving to McAllen, the City Commission’s first priority is to protect the health and safety of the residents they serve,” the city said in a statement.

In addition to setting up the temporary housing, the McAllen City Commission demanded relief from the Biden administration and instructed city staff to cooperate with local nongovernmental organizations to “expand their operations, including identifying additional locations for emergency shelter should the need arise.”

The tents’ stated purpose is to provide temporary housing for those immigrants temporarily admitted lawfully into the U.S., pending their asylum hearing. 

Meanwhile, the city also revealed that since mid-February, more than 7,000 immigrants have tested positive for the Chinese coronavirus and been released into McAllen by Customs and Border Protection. The city notes 1,500 of those have been released over the past seven days. 

Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley operates the Humanitarian Respite Center within the city, which processes migrants and provides clothing, meals, medical care, and housing. The city stated that the center has been overwhelmed in recent months, which prompted McAllen Mayor Javier Villalobos to declare a local state of disaster. The new city facilities will serve to supplement Catholic Charities.

On social media, local citizens expressed a common sentiment of concern for the use of their tax dollars:

“Now we’re spending local government resources to assist these NGOs in furthering their operation in the city and you’re anticipating more tent cities to come too… where’s this energy when McAllen constituents and residents need your help,” wrote one citizen on Facebook.

On August 2, both Mayor Villalobos and Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez signed emergency disaster declarations. Cortez notably signed the order only two months after expressing skepticism about Gov. Greg Abbott’s disaster declaration, saying, “Apparently, Governor Abbott has information that we don’t have. In speaking to local law enforcement, they have not reported levels of criminal activity that would require a disaster proclamation.

On Monday, Cortez distinguished his order from Abbott’s, stating that his order is in response to asylum-seeking individuals, and he wants both changes in policy from the Biden administration and funds to increase local capacity to “accommodate” those seeking asylum.

“I haven’t heard a single word from the White House. I haven’t heard a single word from the federal government,” said Cortez.