Downtown El Cajon
Downtown El Cajon. Photo by Chris Stone

Two days before Christmas, we received word that nearly 100 asylum seekers are going to be dumped onto the streets of El Cajon with nowhere to go and no one to help them.

The effects of the federal government’s failed immigration policies are unfolding before our eyes. Even with Title 42 still in place, the migrant shelter system in San Diego is overwhelmed by asylum seekers.

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When the local nonprofits the state and federal government contract with to handle migrant processing reach capacity, the Border Patrol drops people off throughout the county, leaving hundreds of people helpless on our streets. The El Cajon Transit Center is a drop-off point used by four Border Patrol substations — that is the most stations contributing to one single drop-off anywhere in the county.

We want to welcome people into our community in a safe and humane way, but local governments do not have budgets to support hundreds to thousands of asylum seekers — that is the job of the Federal government and we can’t do it without their help.

El Cajon has welcomed thousands of immigrants over the years — many of whom escaped persecution and harm in their home countries. We have welcomed Chaldeans who left Iraq, and Syrians fleeing a civil war. Last year, following the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, San Diego County welcomed over 25% of Afghan refugees who resettled in California.  

But what is being allowed to occur now is unfair, both to the migrants that are being dropped off without critical services, and to the residents of El Cajon and surrounding communities that must deal with the aftermath of the federal government’s lack of leadership.

We’re already beyond the limit of what our community can safely and effectively handle, and when Title 42 is lifted we could be seeing an increase of three times the current number of migrants entering San Diego County each day. That’s why we teamed up to call upon the President to place the needed resources in East County to handle this massive influx. But it’s not just about the looming deadline of Title 42 anymore, we are in a crisis now.

Though our community has a proud history of welcoming immigrants fleeing persecution with open arms, we fear that too many asylum seekers being dropped off without services is going to overwhelm our hospitals, schools, shelters, and more. East County already has the second highest population of homeless individuals in the county, second only to the city of San Diego. With a median household income of just over $58,000 per year, El Cajon should not have to carry the burden of having asylum seekers dumped on our streets without food, clothing, shelter, or medical services.

This is the second time this year our migrant shelter system has hit capacity and the Border Patrol has released asylum seekers onto the streets to fend for themselves. What is the federal government waiting for to act?

It’s a matter of priorities, and if averting a humanitarian crisis was important to our President and the administration, they would cut funding where needed to put resources to ensure emergency shelter and services for those they are allowing into our county. Anything short of that is the definition of failed leadership.

Supervisor Joel Anderson represents District 2 in East County and Councilmember Steve Goble is deputy mayor of El Cajon.