Title 42, the emergency health order used during the COVID-19 pandemic at the U.S.-Mexico border to quickly expel migrants back to Mexico or to their home country, ends Thursday night at midnight.
The Biden administration introduced strict asylum measures that, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas says, will lead to the expulsion of the majority of migrants at the border, where some border analysts say about 150,000 people are waiting to enter the U.S.
“This is what will happen: You will be returned,” Mayorkas told a Washington news conference on Wednesday. “Our border is not open.”
At the border, migrants are confused about what to do next. Priscilla Orta, an immigration lawyer in Brownsville, Texas, has been crossing the border into Matamoros, Mexico, every week to explain to migrants the process they’re about to face.
“If you enter under any other circumstances besides the app, or just prescheduled appointment, you will not be considered eligible for asylum, which, having worked day in and day out with people who are waiting, especially here in Matamoros, that is precisely what they're seeking: an opportunity to apply for asylum,” she told VOA.
With the end of Title 42, Orta is advising migrants to use the CBPOne app to secure an appointment and letting them know that if they cross without authorization, they will be removed immediately. But even with an additional 1,000 appointments available on the app, people are waiting for some time.
Neris Arruaz arrived in Matamoros a month ago and is still not sure when her family will be able to present themselves at a port of entry. She was an accountant in Cuba. If she crosses to the U.S., she says she has plans to become an entrepreneur and help her family get ahead.
For the communities along the border, an increase in migrant arrivals is not something new.
“The reality is, you’ve got thousands, more than 2,000, coming over every day,” said Cameron County, Texas Judge Eddie Trevino Jr. in Brownsville.
Trevino says that has been the reality for decades and he pushed back against talk that the border is not secure and safe.
“Just because we've had these surges in numbers of immigrants and migrants, that in and of itself has not created the border as an unsafe area,” he said. “It's just created the situation that our immigration system is broken. And we've known that for more than 40 years and yet, administration or Congress after Congress continues to kick the can down [the road] saying, ‘Let somebody else deal with it,’ because they don't want to deal with the political fallout.”
All migrants are processed under Title 8, the federal code of laws dealing with immigration.
"This is a long-standing immigration enforcement authority that multiple administrations, Republican and Democratic alike, have used to process individuals. It carries stiff consequences for irregular migration, including at least a five-year ban on reentry and potential criminal prosecution for repeated attempts to cross unlawfully," Mayorkas told reporters in late April.
For border patrol officials, the mission is clear. Process migrants who qualify under current guidelines and quickly deport those who do not.
“The border is not open, OK?” Border Patrol Agent Fidel Baca told VOA. “If you enter between the ports of entry, you're entering the country illegally. OK? And you are subject to consequences. Another thing that's going to come with Title 8 is consequences. What I mean by that is that people are going to be removed. …They will be facing deportation with a ban of re-entry of five years.”
For the migrants who were able to cross to the U.S. side, the journey isn’t over. Rose Carillo, a Venezuelan migrant, is asking for asylum. Her immigration court appointment is scheduled for May 2024.
“I hope to eventually bring my children,” she said in Spanish. “I miss them so much. It’s so hard to be separated from my family. And they’re my only family, my mother, my three children. I have no one to help them. And I don’t work, they won’t eat. This is my dream. Is to have them here.”
U.S. immigration officials are urging migrants to use the CBPone app if they plan to ask for asylum. They say the next few days will be busy.