‘Risk it all’: Migrant surge as US prepares for Title 42 end

May 8, 2023, 2:33 AM

A migrant waits at the Gateway International Port of Entry under U.S. Customs and Border Protection...

A migrant waits at the Gateway International Port of Entry under U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody in Brownsville, Texas, Friday, May 5, 2023, before being sent back to Mexico under Title 42. (AP Photo/Veronica G. Cardenas)

(AP Photo/Veronica G. Cardenas)

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) — Under a set of white tents at the U.S.-Mexico border in Brownsville, Texas, dozens of Venezuelan men waited. Some sat on curbs and others leaned on metal barricades. When the gates eventually opened, the long line of men filed slowly up the pedestrian pathway to the bridge and across the Rio Grande River to Mexico.

In the past few weeks, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials have been facilitating these expulsions three times a day as roughly 30,000 migrants, mostly from Venezuela, have entered the U.S. in this region since mid-April. That’s compared with 1,700 migrants Border Patrol agents encountered in the first two weeks of April.

In the other end of the state, in El Paso, officials are dealing with another surge of migrants and worry that thousands more are waiting to cross.

All this comes as the U.S. is preparing for the end of a policy linked to the coronavirus pandemic that allowed it to quickly expel many migrants, and it spotlights concerns about whether the end of the immigration limits under Title 42 of a 1944 public health law will mean even more migrants trying to cross the southern border.

“We’ve been preparing for quite some time and we are ready. What we are expecting is indeed a surge. And what we are doing is planning for different levels of a surge,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said last week during a visit to southern Texas. But he also stressed that the situation at the border is “extremely challenging.”

He spoke from a location in Brownsville where U.S. officials had set up a tent and facilities like portable bathrooms for migrants. He said it’s difficult to identify the cause of the recent Venezuelan surge but said the U.S. is working with Mexico to address it and predicted change “very shortly.”

Many of those crossing the border are entering through Brownsville just north of the Mexican border town of Matamoros. The city was rocked by another crisis Sunday when an SUV plowed into people waiting at a bus stop across from the city’s migrant shelter. Eight people, mostly men from Venezuela, died.

Ricardo Marquez, a 30-year-old Venezuelan man, arrived at a shelter in McAllen after crossing the border with his wife and 5-month-old child in Brownsville. They left Venezuela because his daughter needs surgery.

“I was confronted with the decision to either stay there or risk it all for my daughter,” he said. They had crossed the Rio Grande after spending a month in Matamoros trying to get an appointment through an app the U.S. uses to schedule appointments for people without documents to come to the border and seek entry.

Officials in President Joe Biden’s administration say they have been preparing for well over a year for the end of Title 42. many migrants and advocates criticized the app, saying it had technological problems and there simply weren’t enough appointments.

The strategy is also heavy on consequences. The U.S. is proposing a rule that quickly screening migrants seeking asylum at the border and deporting those deemed not qualified, and a five-year ban on reentry for those deported.

A lot of these consequences have been met with harsh criticism by immigrants’ rights groups who have gone so far as to compare the policies to then-President Donald Trump’s and say the right to apply for asylum on U.S. soil is sacrosanct. Much of the Biden administration strategy is also facing legal peril in the coming weeks. The proposed rule limiting asylum is almost certain to be the subject of lawsuits. And Republican-leaning states want to stop the Democratic administration’s use of humanitarian parole on such a large scale.

The administration has also been increasing Immigration and Customs Enforcement flights to remove people from the country — flights like one that took off recently from an airport in Harlingen, Texas. Shortly after dawn three buses pulled up next to a plane. One by one migrants got out of the bus. They were wearing handcuffs and leg restraints and surgical masks. First they were patted down for contraband and then slowly walked up the stairs to the plane. Altogether 133 migrants were sent back to their home country of Guatemala.

But those flights only work if countries accept them. Venezuela does not. And Colombia says it’s suspending deportation flights due to “cruel and degrading” treatment of migrants.

Administration officials say they’re using technology to speed up the processing of migrants who cross the border without documentation and using mobile processing, so they can process migrants while they’re being transported by bus or van, for example. They’ve pushed to digitize documents that at one time were filled out by hand by Border Patrol. And they’ve beefed up the hiring of contractors so agents can remain in the field.

But critics have slammed the administration, saying it’s not doing enough. Kristen Sinema, an independent U.S. senator from Arizona, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that the administration wasn’t communicating with local officials about things like what type of surge to expect or whether buses would be available to transport migrants. And she said a decision to send 1,500 military troops to the border came too late.

In communities that border Mexico, officials and community groups that care for newly arrived migrants are anxious about what the end of Title 42 means. Sister Norma Pimentel runs Catholic Charities’ Humanitarian Respite Center, the largest shelter in South Texas.

The shelter functions mainly as a resource center where migrants can purchase tickets, make calls, eat and rest before traveling to their next destination, where they often have family or other contacts. But, Pimentel said, many of the Venezuelans in this latest surge don’t have connections in the U.S., making it harder for them to move to the next destination. “That becomes a problem for us,” she said.

The federal government gives money to communities to help them deal with the increases in migrants. On Friday the administration announced that $332 million had been disbursed to 35 local governments and service organizations. Most goes to communities close to the border “due to the urgencies they are confronting,” but cities far from the border also get funds.

In the Texas border city of El Paso, about 2,200 migrants are currently camped or living on the streets a few blocks from major ports of entry that connect El Paso with the Mexican city of Juárez. The city is prepared to open up shelters next week if needed at two vacant school buildings and a civic center.

El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser estimated that roughly 10,000 to 12,000 migrants are in Juárez waiting to cross, as local officials prepare for the “unknown.” Leeser said migrants are flocking to the border under false assumptions that it will be easier to gain entry to the U.S. when Title 42 goes away, but for many there could be tougher consequences.

It’s a message federal officials have been repeating. But they’re competing against a powerful human smuggling network that facilitates northern migration and the desperation of migrants who feel they have no other option.

At the Brownsville port of entry, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials say they’ve run drills to prepare in case there’s a surge of migrants trying to cross and they need to close the bridge. Pedestrians cross from Matamoros using a covered walkway that can only accommodate a few people across. Worried about the impact of long lines of migrants coming to the port after May 11 without an appointment and impacting port operations, they’re calling on people to schedule appointments through CBP One.


Gonzalez reported from McAllen, Texas. Associated Press writer Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, N.M., contributed to this report.

National News

FILE - Solomon Peña, center, a Republican candidate for New Mexico House District 14, is taken int...

Associated Press

Federal grand jury charges ex-GOP candidate with shootings on lawmakers’ homes

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A failed political candidate has been indicted on federal charges including interference with the electoral process in connection with a series of drive-by shootings at the homes of state and local lawmakers in Albuquerque, according to a grand jury indictment that was unsealed Wednesday. The indictment filed in U.S. District […]

15 hours ago

Associated Press

Authorities identify 4 missing, 1 dead after Alaska charter boat found partially submerged

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Authorities on Wednesday released the names of four people who remain missing after the charter fishing boat they were on was found partially submerged in southeast Alaska. The recovered body of a fifth person has also been identified. Alaska State Troopers identified those missing as Danielle Agcaoili, 53, of Waipahu, Hawaii; […]

15 hours ago

Associated Press

Court: No lawsuit immunity for Michigan official who had rifle during online meeting

DETROIT (AP) — A lawsuit can go forward against a Michigan official who flashed a rifle during a public meeting over video conference, a federal appeals court said Wednesday. Patricia MacIntosh is suing Ron Clous, alleging he tried to silence her right to free speech when he displayed the rifle during a 2021 meeting of […]

15 hours ago

In this still image captured by Las Vegas police officer Tierney Tomburo's body camera, 27-year-old...

Associated Press

Las Vegas police video shows moment officer was shot during traffic stop

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Las Vegas police lapel videos played Wednesday during a public review of evidence in a September 2022 shooting showed the moment an officer was shot and wounded during a pre-dawn traffic stop and the dramatic aftermath as her partner rushed to her side to apply a tourniquet. Officer Tierney Tomburo, 24 […]

15 hours ago

FILE - Sycamore School students in participate in Relay for Life with a Relay Recess Wednesday, Jun...

Associated Press

California lawmakers advance bill to cool down outside areas at schools

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — As California grapples with how to deal with heat waves made more intense by climate change, schools in the state may soon have to come up with plans for cooling down outside play areas by planting more trees and replacing surfaces like asphalt that swelter on hot days. The state Senate […]

15 hours ago

Associated Press

Preliminary autopsy determines escaped Ohio inmate found in river died of drowning

HENDERSON, Ky. (AP) — A convicted murderer whose body was found floating in a river several days after he and another inmate escaped from a northwest Ohio prison died from drowning, according to preliminary autopsy results released Wednesday. Bradley Gillespie, 50, and James Lee, 47, were reported missing May 23 from the Allen Oakwood Correctional […]

15 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Internet Washington...

Major Internet Upgrade and Expansion Planned This Year in Washington State

Comcast is investing $280 million this year to offer multi-gigabit Internet speeds to more than four million locations.

Compassion International...

Brock Huard and Friends Rally Around The Fight for First Campaign

Professional athletes are teaming up to prevent infant mortality and empower women at risk in communities facing severe poverty.

Emergency Preparedness...

Prepare for the next disaster at the Emergency Preparedness Conference

Being prepared before the next emergency arrives is key to preserving businesses and organizations of many kinds.

SHIBA volunteer...

Volunteer to help people understand their Medicare options!

If you’re retired or getting ready to retire and looking for new ways to stay active, becoming a SHIBA volunteer could be for you!

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.

Comcast Ready for Business Fund...

Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

‘Risk it all’: Migrant surge as US prepares for Title 42 end