Federal agents fanned out on the streets of El Paso, Texas, on Tuesday, seeking out migrants who have been gathering at shelters and churches in the southern border town hoping to be able to stay in the United States ahead of the expiration of a Trump-era border-control policy that goes away at the end of the day Thursday.
The enforcement action by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security came as a new surge of migrants from Venezuela, Haiti, Cuba and elsewhere rush to the U.S.-Mexico border and Customs and Border Protection’s insistence that no one will be allowed through a U.S. port of entry without an appointment via its new CBP One app.
Despite such assertions, migrants have continue to surge to the border, hoping to beat Thursday’s deadline and tougher immigration enforcement that could bar re-entry or a chance to apply for asylum for five years.
“There are media reports in Mexico that there might be around 600,000 migrants heading to the border,” July Rodriguez, the director of Support for Venezuelan Migrants, told the Miami Herald in an interview from Mexico City.
“This is a big crisis. No one knows what is going to happen the day after the end of Title 42,” she said. “This is getting out of hand.”
In recent days, advocates working with migrants from Venezuela and Haiti have tried to do outreach, warning them that the border isn’t open and they face expulsions from the United States. But many of their efforts have fallen on deaf ears.
Rodriguez said there are currently waves of migrants headed to the U.S. from Colombia as well as from Chiapas, a Mexican state that borders Guatemala. Most of those migrants are concentrated near the border town of Tapachula and are trying to obtain from Mexico’s National Migration Institute the 45-day migration status that would allow them to travel toward Ciudad Juárez. That would bring them across the border from El Paso.
“But they are not all in Chiapas,” Rodriguez said. “There is also a large number of them already walking or riding toward the border.”
After three years, Title 42, the public-health authority invoked by the Trump administration at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic to quickly expel migrants apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border, will go away — along with other coronavirus public-health emergency rules.
The pending end of the controversial border policy has led to fears that border towns in both Mexico and the U.S. will be overwhelmed as migrants become convinced that the border is now open.
Already, migrants who have made their way into Juárez are camping or lining up in informal areas hoping to cross into the U.S. ahead of the expiration, which is set to bring tougher enforcement laws.
“As we have said repeatedly, individuals who do not have a lawful basis to remain will be removed,” Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner Troy Miller said about migrants gathered on the U.S. side. “Individuals should not listen to the lies of smugglers and instead use lawful pathways to protection.”
The U.S. recently dispatched 1,500 active-duty troops to the border to join 2,500 National Guards already there.
Rodriguez, who heads the nongovernmental organization focused on helping Venezuelans, said migrants are desperate to reach the U.S. border.
“They are suffering a great deal of anxiety, despite our efforts to explain to them the different alternatives they can find in Mexico to ask for asylum or to ask for a CBP One appointment so they don’t run risks at the border, where they can be kidnapped or robbed or become extortion victims. They are saying, ‘I am not going to stay here. I’ll get to the United States,’ “ Rodriguez said.
“There are a lot of rumors that people are being able to get into the United States and they believe that people are lying when they say that the border is closed,” she added. “And there is very little we can do about that. We can do no more than to try to keep informing them of what the real situation is.”
In addition to the migrants in Mexico, Rodriguez said her organization has been informed that there is “a large wave headed toward the border in Colombia,” and that the Darien Gap — the jungle between Colombia and Panama where many migrants have lost their lives trying to cross — is full.
“A large number of them set out a few weeks back with the idea of getting to the border by May 11 and crossing the border,” she said. “Others believe that the end of Title 42 will actually open the border and that they will be able to enter the following day. So we are seeing that El Darien is full of people and this has been the case for many weeks now. And most of those that were there when the rush began are already here in Mexico. They all think they will be able to cross.”
The Biden administration, which has faced criticism from Republican governors and lawmakers, has insisted that it is prepared for the end of Title 42. They’ve announced several new policies that they say are aimed at curbing the flow of migration at the border.
“We do expect to see an increase” in migrants arriving at the border, a senior administration official told reporters on Tuesday. “But we do believe over time that these programs that expand legal pathways, that increase consequences for irregular migration, will have a sustainable and longstanding impact on our flows.”
The administration plans to open regional processing centers, initially in Guatemala and Colombia, in partnership with international organizations to prescreen individuals’ eligibility for a lawful pathway to the U.S. — a “centerpiece” of the administration’s post-Title 42 plan, a second administration official said.
The administration also announced that CBP One will be expanded to allow for more appointments, to about 1,000 each day, and to provide additional time to complete requests and prioritize migrants who have been waiting the longest.
“We do expect the initial, early days to include an increase in migration,” the second official said, noting that over 4,000 personnel — including 1,000 law enforcement officers, 1,500 military personnel, and a record number of private contractors — have been deployed to the border to assist with the surge. “We have been preparing for this for over two years now.”
In a statement, CBP said that “scheduling an appointment in CBP One provides a safe, orderly, and humane process for noncitizens to access ports of entry rather than attempting to enter the United States irregularly.”
Asylum seekers who try to enter the U.S. without permission will face expedited removal and a re-entry ban, immigration officials have warned. In some cases, they will be deported to their home country, and in others back to Mexico, under an agreement with the Mexican government.
Deportations and a ban on re-entering the U.S. will apply to those who attempt to cross either by land at the U.S.-Mexico border or by sea through the Florida Straits or Puerto Rico’s Mona Passage. Such migrants will be processed under what’s known as Title 8, which bars re-entry into the U.S. for at least five years.
U.S. officials argue that such smuggling ventures are risky and put migrants’ lives at risk. They said they plan to expand legal pathways into the U.S. such as employment-based visa and family reunification, particular for Cubans and Haitians.
In January, the administration launched a two-year humanitarian parole program for migrants from Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua. Already provided to Venezuelan nationals, the program allows individuals from the four countries to legally fly to the U.S. if they have a U.S. sponsor and a valid passport.
Immigration advocates have said that while Title 42 should go away, it should not be replaced with policies that discourage or ban people from seeking asylum at the U.S. border or relies on Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention and surveillance.
“Title 42 should never have been implemented in the first place, and the Biden administration’s continuation of the policy for over two years has been shameful,” said Silky Shah, executive director of Detention Watch Network. “Now that it is finally ending this week, we are again making it clear: The administration must end Title 42 without relying on immigration detention and surveillance and restore access to our borders so people can seek safety and opportunity with dignity and respect.”