Thousands of migrants overwhelm the U.S.-Mexico border as Title 42 expires


EL PASO — On a dusty patch of U.S. land between the Rio Grande and the U.S. border wall, thousands of migrants have been streaming this week toward two massive gates that open into the United States.

“Door 40” and “Door 42” are two miles apart, the latter sharing the same number with the Title 42 pandemic policy whose much-anticipated expiration Thursday night has already unleashed the largest wave of border crossings in U.S. history.

U.S. authorities have been directing migrants toward the large steel gates, turning the riverplain east of downtown El Paso into a massive outdoor waiting room.

“We just want to pass, but this process is so slow,” said Jesus Juarez, 26, of Venezuela, who said he had spent a month crossing multiple countries to reach that spot.

He and his cousin Carlos Juarez, 31, had raspy throats and bloodshot eyes from spending hours in the swirling dust and baking sun. U.S. agents periodically opened the gates to allow groups of 10 or 15 to enter for processing and a chance to seek U.S. protection. “But 100 more arrive,” Jesus Juarez said.

The Title 42 emergency public health policy expires at 11:59 p.m. Thursday, and for months U.S. officials have predicted a migration surge after they are no longer able to rapidly expel border-crossers as part of pandemic restrictions.

The mere anticipation of the policy’s end has already triggered a massive influx, as tens of thousands of migrants, mostly from Venezuela, have been crossing, with some saying they fear they’ll be deported after the measure lifts.

Illegal crossings have topped 10,000 per day this week, the highest levels ever, leaving Border Patrol stations and processing facilities crowded beyond capacity. On Wednesday Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz issued a memo authorizing the emergency release of migrants without a court date when holding facilities exceed 125 percent of their capacity or other thresholds are surpassed.

The move is viewed as the beginning of what could be the type of chaotic mass releases Biden officials have been seeking to avoid.

The Ortiz memo issued Wednesday directs Border Patrol supervisors to use an authority called “Parole with Conditions” that directs migrants to report to U.S. immigration authorities in their destination cities within 60 days. A federal judge in March ruled that the Biden administration’s use of a similar procedure was unlawful, calling it “little more than a speedbump” for migrants arriving illegally.

According to the Ortiz memo, obtained by The Post, “the decision to parole a noncitizen must still be made on a case-by-case individualized basis, examining all the facts and circumstances at the time of the noncitizen’s inspection, and only if there is an urgent humanitarian reason, such as ensuring the safety, health and security of the individual noncitizen, or significant public benefit justifying parole.”

The Border Patrol has averaged 8,750 migrant encounters per day over the past week, the memo noted, more than twice as high as the peak of the 2019 crisis when record numbers of Central American families overwhelmed the Trump administration.

Still unclear is whether most of the migrants who have been waiting in Northern Mexico have already attempted to cross, or if Title 42′s end will bring still-larger waves in the coming days and weeks.

CBP officials had more than 25,000 migrants in holding cells and processing facilities along the border this week, three times the system’s rated capacity, according to the latest government data obtained by The Post. The Rio Grande Valley of south Texas, and particularly the Brownsville area, have been especially busy with Venezuelan migrants crossing the river in large groups, with many using inflatable flotation devices.

Texas National Guard troops and state police deployed by Gov. Greg Abbott have at times tried to block migrants from climbing up the river banks, but many of the migrants in the Brownsville area appeared to be getting through to line up for processing at Border Patrol tents.

At the opposite end of the state in El Paso, where the Rio Grande is little more than an oozing trickle, a well-worn path from the Mexican side leads down an embankment to a hop-scotch across river stones and a junked wooden pallet.

Once migrants cross the center of the river – away from an official port of entry – they have entered the United States from Mexico illegally. They walk up the U.S. side through an opening in the razor wire, joining the mass of people who have been waiting in international limbo, at times crossing back into Mexico for supplies.

Migrants have complained they see no international agencies come to their aid as they wait in the roughshod encampments they’ve set up in this peculiar corridor of land divided from the United States by the bars of the border wall.

“No one has helped us. No one at all,” said Angel Moran, a 50-year-old Venezuelan who said he’d been waiting six days. “I have never seen an international group here. And there are sick children breathing dust, all day and all night. I feel helpless watching that and not being able to do anything at all to help. Who is supposed to help these children and their mothers?”

Moran said he was the coordinator of the Mesa de Unidad Democratica organization in Venezuela – a group opposed to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and his predecessor Hugo Chavez – so he considered his need to flee urgent.

At shelters on the Mexican side and along the streets of Ciudad Juarez, migrants faced a choice: cross now, or wait for a tense situation to pass.

Severino Ismael Martinez Santiago, the director of the Pan de Vida shelter in Ciudad Juarez, the Mexican border city opposite El Paso, said many migrants were confused about what the lifting of Title 42 rules would mean for their effort to gain legal entry into the United States.

“They are misinformed. They believe that when Title 42 ends, the doors to the United States will be opened, and they can cross,” Martinez said. “But that is far from the truth. It will be far worse for them.”

Biden administration officials say they will ramp up deportations and impose new restrictions on asylum-seekers who cross illegally when Title 42 lifts.

Martinez said people considering migrating to the border of the United States should wait if possible.

“See what happens,” he said. “Right now, things are up in the air with how to enter the United States. Why risk your lives, the lives of your children? Why come, if suffering awaits you? Wait six months to see how things are going.”

Miroff reported from Washington.



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