Frustrated migrants stranded in Mexico say they'll keep waiting for border health policy to end
A controversial public health order that’s been rapidly expelling migrants from the U.S. was supposed to end Wednesday. But as Title 42 remains in place migrants are unsure about their future and need to seek shelter as a strong cold front approaches.
CIUDAD JUAREZ — Dorbis and Jorge had looked forward to Wednesday for several weeks. Dec. 21 was when Title 42, a controversial public health order in place nearly three years to rapidly expel migrants and prevent them from seeking asylum, was supposed to end.
But as they casually watched migrants cross the Rio Grande from Ciudad Juarez into El Paso Wednesday, they decided not to follow suit. On Tuesday the U.S. Supreme Court ordered Title 42 to remain in place, albeit temporarily, after several Republican-led states including Texas sued the federal government.
Whether the policy is finally lifted could be decided in the next week. But for migrants like Dorbis and Jorge, who asked that their last names not be used, the news about Title 42 was more of the same.
“It’s frustrating,” said Dorbis, 45, who said he’s been trying to reach the United States since September after leaving Venezuela. “I am going to wait on everything and ask God that everything will turn out well and that [U.S. officials] will let us pass.”
Jorge, 33, said that they’ve waited more than three months to cross and another week or two won’t make a difference. But they’d need to figure out where to stay after scraping money together to rent a room Tuesday night. Neither one said they wanted to stay in the United States permanently.
“I just want to work for a while and return,” said Jorge, who has a sister in New York who is a naturalized citizen.
Meanwhile, hundreds of migrants continue to seek haven in the United States despite Title 42 remaining in place. Early Wednesday morning, migrants waded into the shallow water of the Rio Grande and climbed the concrete banks of the river to enter U.S. soil.
The spot they chose to cross into El Paso was a few blocks from where thousands crossed last week. The Texas National Guard on Tuesday blocked that entry under orders from Gov. Greg Abbott as part of Operation Lone Star, a state-led border security effort that’s cost the state billions. More than 400 National Guards arrived in El Paso earlier this week, setting up temporary barriers with concertina wire on the banks of the river where the migrants were crossing.
The mass migration into Texas has the city of El Paso scrambling to find shelter for migrants seeking asylum. But even after Title 42 ends, El Paso officials say they will likely see more crossings.
On Tuesday the city said it will use two empty schools and its downtown convention center to house migrants as the winter storm that’s forecasted to blanket much of the country will drop temperatures into the 20s in El Paso. City and school district officials were at Bassett Middle School in north central El Paso Wednesday preparing to turn the school’s gymnasium into a makeshift shelter.
El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser said the city has taken in an average of about 4,500 migrants a day recently.
“We want to make sure that people are not sleeping out into the streets,” he told CNN Wednesday. “Whether [Title 42] is lifted or not. We want to be prepared. One of the things that we’ve learned is that we need to be prepared for the unknown. And that’s what we’re doing today.”
In a statement Tuesday, Customs and Border Protection in El Paso said the agency has been able to move more than 3,400 migrants out of the area through Title 42 or through expedited removal. Another 6,000 have been moved to other areas for processing. Migrant apprehensions have also dropped by 40% over the last three days, the statement added.
A Customs and Border Protection spokesman said the agency will vet migrants who were waiting to be processed Wednesday morning and make releases as necessary.
“CBP releases noncitizens to service providing nongovernmental organizations and other sites in border communities in coordination with state and local partners,” the statement reads. “CBP works diligently to ensure that releases are conducted in a safe manner and that all noncitizens released from custody are provided essential support upon release and may access transportation to continue to their destinations.”
The statement added that “individuals who are found to pose a public safety risk continue to be detained.”
Leeser said the city has received about $8 million from the Biden administration to help the city cope with the migrant crisis. But he said any short-term efforts won’t address the bigger issue.
“It’s a Band Aid on a federal issue, and the federal immigration system is broken,” he said. “It’s not an El Paso problem. It’s a problem that is all over the United States.”
For migrants like Anjul, a 24-year-old who fled Venezuela, longer-term policies and politics take a back seat. As the migrants were crossing the Rio Grande Wednesday morning, she sat and watched, thinking about her young son who is still in her home country.
“I am asking God to help me keep my faith. It’s been a hard journey,” she said. “It’s more expensive to go back home than to wait it out.”
After a three-month journey she arrived in Ciudad Juarez earlier this week. She’s been lucky enough to find space at a shelter. She’s unsure of her next move.
“I just want to find some work [somewhere] and send money home,” she said.
KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you.
Got a tip? Email Julián Aguilar at email@example.com.You can follow Julián on Twitter @nachoaguilar.
Copyright 2022 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.