EL PASO, Texas — Real estate developer Tanny Berg doesn’t see chaos and danger when he looks at the lines of people who have come to the border as the United States makes a shift in how it manages immigration.
Instead, according to him, he sees history, the reality of a border city, a broken immigration system and desperate people used as scapegoats in a politically polarized world.
“We’re accustomed in this area to migration, people coming north from Mexico. We all trace our history … that’s how people got here,” said Berg, 74, a lifetime resident of the border city and a past president of the El Paso Chamber of Commerce.
On Thursday, the Biden administration stopped governing the border with Title 42, a pandemic-era restriction implemented by then-President Donald Trump. Biden reverted to national immigration law with some policies of his own.
Berg dismissed descriptions of the people at the border as invaders and said the city adjusted to the recent arrivals as it has since the inception of the United States and Mexico and the inception of Texas and Mexico.
“We’re used to the transitioning of people from one place to another,” said Berg, who also serves on an advisory board to Customs and Border Protection.
He noted that a few hundred people a week have regularly come to the border to request asylum, but when Trump implemented Title 42, which allowed border officers to expel migrants without considering them for asylum, “it tried to put a cork” in what had been going on “forever” and border cities ended up with masses of people.
The Biden administration says the new arrivals are part of the greatest global displacement of people since World War II. El Paso has been at the center of it, eliciting a range of responses from its residents.
The city’s economy has always relied on cross-border commerce. Berg noted that some migrants have arrived with money and were buying food at Starky’s Pizza, an eatery across the street from the Sacred Heart Church’s shelter in downtown El Paso.
He shared a recent conversation he had with someone who had recently crossed the border.
“I spoke to a migrant who said, ‘Do you think I want to sleep on the sidewalks of your street? My life is finite, do you think I want to spend three days sleeping on your sidewalk? I have got to create a better environment for my family. I can’t fail because it is just not about me,’” Berg said.
Others had a different view of the current situation.
Julissa Garcia, also an El Paso resident, said she understands that “everybody wants a better future, but they’re taking our taxes, they are taking everything from us.” The city is overwhelmed, she said.
She also expressed concern for the safety of her children who attend a school next to a school that was being used as a shelter.
Some residents were lending a hand to those who had recently arrived in the border city.
Maria del Carmen Favila dropped off a bag of food for some of the people at the Sacred Heart shelter. “They’re poor and they need to eat,” she said. “I need to help. I like helping. I have a good heart and I feel more for the children.”
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