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Before Title 42 Ends, El Paso Migrants Urged to Visit


EL PASO, Texas — Outside a homeless shelter in downtown El Paso, where hundreds of migrants have camped in recent weeks, fear and confusion hung in the air.

Men, women and children gathered under white Red Cross tarps that offered shade from the brutal 90-degree weather, sitting on beds and pieces of flat cardboard topped with donated sheets.

” I really do not know what to do. I’m so scared of surrendering and being deported…I just want to be able to move on and reunite with my family,” said José, 41, who emigrated from Venezuela and stayed outside the opportunities for the homeless. .

José, who asked that his full name not be used for fear of reprisals from immigration authorities, was trying to reach his wife and 4-year-old daughter in Atlanta after they were separated from him and allowed to enter the United States about three weeks ago. .

Follow live updates as Title 42 ends

A day before the lifting of a pandemic-era restriction that has allowed the United States to quickly turn back millions of migrants and asylum seekers, the city of El Paso is trying to quell a humanitarian crisis that does not should only get worse. El Paso and other cities in Texas have declared states of emergency ahead of the policy change.

Migrants enter El Paso, Texas from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico on May 10, 2023.
On Wednesday, migrants enter El Paso from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Andres Leighton/AP
A member of the Texas Army National Guard watches as U.S. Customs and Border Protection Border Patrol agents search migrants traveling for immigration and asylum processing at the US-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas on May 10, 2023.
The migrants travel Wednesday for immigration and asylum processing in El Paso. Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Immigration authorities have deported migrants more than 2.8 million times under the policy, known as Title 42, according to Customs and Border Protection data.

With Title 42 ending after Thursday, immigration authorities and groups that help immigrant families distributed flyers encouraging migrants who entered the United States by avoiding legal ports of entry to go to a nearby processing center to be “processed by CBP officers and placed.” on the right path to immigration.

Some of the migrants have been anxious about their upcoming move, trying to navigate the complex immigration process for a chance to stay in the United States.

Growing numbers, growing crisis

Authorities are bracing for a potentially large number of people aiming to cross the US border after the rule expires Thursday night. Shelters were so full that some 3,300 migrants have been living on the streets outside a nearby church and the center in recent days, although the numbers continue to fluctuate.

As the shelters provide migrants with food, basic necessities and a temporary place to stay, the organizations say an unsustainable humanitarian crisis is unfolding.

“It has been very troubling for us not to be able to provide the level of support needed, simply due to the large number of people we work with,” said John Martin, Deputy Director. from the Opportunity Center for the Homeless.

Migrants camp outside the Opportunity Center for the Homeless ahead of the lifting of Title 42 in El Paso, Texas, Wednesday, May 3, 2023.
People camped outside the Opportunity Center for the Homeless in El Paso last week. Paul Ratje/Bloomberg via Getty Images

At the centre, Martin said the men’s program can comfortably accommodate 120 people inside, with an additional 50 people for the women’s program and another 85 in a reception center for migrant families. But recently those programs have been stretched to capacity or overwhelmed, with migrants seeking refuge outdoors in a makeshift tent city in a parking lot and an alley behind the center.

“I took the opportunity to cross the wall”

More than 11,000 migrants were caught crossing the country’s southern border on Tuesday, already exceeding expectations of 10,000 a day forecast by Department of Homeland Security officials on what could happen when Covid restrictions are lifted Thursday evening.

To further complicate the situation, due to federal funding, many shelters can only accommodate migrants who have already been processed, not those who have crossed illegally.

Authorities in El Paso said late last week that between 10,000 and 15,000 migrants in Juarez were potentially expected with the lifting of Title 42.

The city said it plans to open two empty schools as shelters this week, but they will only be open to processed migrants because they are federally funded.

Yohan Torres Ugas, a 39-year-old Venezuelan, said while he was across the border in Juarez for two months, he tried using CBP One, a mobile app for migrants trying to get an appointment to seek asylum in the United States. doesn’t work for him, he says.

“So I took the opportunity to break through the wall, there was no other way,” he said in Spanish.

Torres Ugas is trying to seek political asylum for himself and his 19-year-old son after they have been outside the Opportunity Center for about a week. As of Tuesday, he had documents showing that the two had receipts for filing their asylum applications in El Paso, but he did not know if the documents allowed them to travel. They were also not yet allowed to work legally in the country.

“Our fear is that they’ll kick us out and we’ll have to start over after all it’s cost us,” he said. “It took us months to get here, through the jungle, several countries, risking our lives. We cannot go back to Venezuela.

Torres Ugas said he wanted to leave El Paso because of fears of growing anti-immigrant sentiment fueled by scenes of migrants camping in the border town.

Once he has enough money, Torres Ugas wants to move on, “being here so close to the border, there are a lot of problems around us migrants, so we have to get out of this. state,” he said.

“It’s hard to get around here because we don’t have any money. If we had money, we could go elsewhere. »

In the city, non-governmental organizations and churches have become a temporary stopover for homeless migrants.

The city told NBC News on Monday that some 2,500 migrants were camping around the nearby Sacred Heart Church, and another 800 near the Opportunity Center who were mostly undocumented or unprocessed. Another 500 to 600 treated migrants were staying in NGOs.

Migrants camp outside the Church of the Sacred Heart in El Paso, Texas, May 8, 2023.
On Monday, migrants camp outside the Church of the Sacred Heart in El Paso.Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images
Migrants line up for donations outside the Church of the Sacred Heart before the lifting of Title 42 in El Paso, Texas, May 3, 2023.
People line up for donations outside Sacred Heart Church in El Paso last week. Paul Ratje/Bloomberg via Getty Images

“We had never seen this before,” said Sacred Heart Church pastor Rafael Garcia. Several months ago the church also saw a large number of people camping outside, but not as many as in recent days.

Many people who have crossed the border do not have the funds to pay for bus or plane tickets to take them to their next destinations and some of those who may have collected enough money are too afraid to leave the areas around the refuge.

It “creates a bottleneck effect” keeping people in El Paso, Garcia said.

“It’s a humanitarian crisis where people are vulnerable. They don’t have the funds. They don’t know what to do. Just the volume of people,” he said.

The Department of Homeland Security said it has increased resources and personnel to support border operations to expedite processing and help alleviate potential overcrowding at train stations. They have also increased the funding and capacity of organizations that receive migrants after their processing.

Fear, followed by “hope”

Groups of people who had crossed the border without papers kept coming back to the potential risks of surrendering, arguing over what to do.

Migrants line up next to the border fence under the supervision of the Border Patrol and the Texas National Guard to enter El Paso, Texas, May 10, 2023.
Migrants line up next to the border fence under the supervision of the Border Patrol and the Texas National Guard to enter El Paso, Texas on Wednesday.Andres Leighton/AP

Rosa, a 31-year-old Venezuelan, said some were driven by fear of what the end of Title 42 would mean for those already in El Paso who crossed illegally. Rosa has already surrendered but she worries about her nephew, who entered the United States illegally.

“Everyone is scared for the end of title 42, that they kick us out, that they don’t deal with us,” said Rosa, who asked that her full name not be used for fear of reprisal for her and his family by the immigration authorities. . “So many sacrifices to get here for nothing.”

But at noon Tuesday, hundreds of people lined up outside a CBP processing center to surrender.

Rosa was sitting in the shade; it had been three hours since his nephew had gone to surrender. None of them have cell phones, so she was eagerly awaiting his return.

“I’m really nervous,” she said, sitting with her arms crossed in her lap, rocking back and forth occasionally.

She said her nephew wanted to turn back, but surrendered after seeing other migrants who entered had been released with documents.

“There is hope,” she said.

Araceli Perez, a social worker at the Opportunity Center, said a majority of migrants who stayed outside made it to the processing center on Tuesday. Some returned, delighted to have received documents allowing them to travel, she said. Others are still waiting to be processed, she said, adding that there are still others with criminal records or migrants from countries other than Venezuela who she says have been deported or expelled.

On Wednesday, fewer migrants were seen around the church and the homeless shelter.

“It gives us a chance to breathe a little,” said Martin, adding that the center would focus on preparing for the next groups of migrants to come.

“We tried to prepare for the worst-case scenario,” he said. “We just don’t know.”

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.