Victoria Bekiempis and Maya Yang
Sat, 13 May 2023 at 7:00 pm BST
The US-Mexico border saw surprising calm one full day after pandemic-era immigration restrictions known as Title 42 were lifted and replaced by new Biden administration policies intending to block unlawful crossings while establishing a legal means of entering the US, according to reports.
The seeming quiet stands in stark contrast to fear-mongering promoted by many conservatives including the Texas governor, Greg Abbott. The Republican politician accused Biden of “laying down the welcome mat to people across the entire world” and deployed “specially trained soldiers” to the border.
On the border, it seemed like aspiring immigrants were waiting patiently for an opportunity to enter the US. Many migrants in Mexico, across the river from El Paso, Texas, kept an eye on their mobile phones hoping to receive an appointment to request entry into the US, instead of crossing without permission.
The US Department of Homeland Security said officials have not seen any dramatic increase in immigration, according to the Associated Press.
“I hope it’s a little better and that the appointments are streamlined a little more,” Yeremy Depablos, of Venezuela, reportedly said.
Depablos, who is with seven cousins attempting to enter the US, has been in Ciudad Juárez for a month. He said he did not want to cross the border unlawfully, concerned about deportation. “We have to do it the legal way.”
Daniel Mora, a reverend in El Paso, said several dozen migrants near the Sacred Heart Catholic church and shelter listened to dictates on flyers distributed by US immigration officials, which warned they had a “last chance” to seek processing. They largely left, AP said.
The city’s mayor, Oscar Leeser, said that 1,800 migrants submitted to immigration authorities. Melissa López, who works as executive director for Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services at El Paso, remarked that many migrants were willing to follow the new rules.
Speaking to the Guardian from El Paso, Texas, Kennji Kizuka, the International Rescue Committee’s director of asylum policy, said that it has been “remarkably quiet” following Title 42’s expiration.
“It’s really quiet. After midnight, we were waiting on the El Paso side and there was hardly anyone who came to the port of entry. Along the border, there wasn’t a rush of people trying to cross at other points,” he said.
“Title 42 has in some ways ended with a whimper and it’s not what I think many politicians … [and] what a lot of the media expected … We’re also waiting to see what comes next and hoping that it could be a more humane process,” he added.
The Title 42 restrictions expired just before midnight on Thursday. Some 10,000 people entered the US from Mexico on Thursday, which is a “historically large number”, the New York Times said. As of early Friday morning, US border authorities had 24,000 migrants in their custody, topping the maximum capacity of 18-20,000 in custody, per the Times.
Title 42, enacted by the Trump administration in March 2020, permitted border officials to swiftly return asylum seekers across the US-Mexico border with the intention of stopping the spread of Covid-19, according to AP.
Although Title 42 kept many immigrants from pursuing asylum, there were no legal consequences if they were expelled. Biden’s rules, in contrast, effectively prohibit migrants from claiming asylum if they did not first seek it online, or pursue protection in countries they traveled through en route to the US.
Asylum seekers who are permitted entry into the US will also be subject to onerous rules such as GPS monitoring and curfews; migrants who are thrown out can be prohibited from coming into this country for five years and potentially face criminal charges. The situation was not as calm in southern Mexico, however, with migrants trying to hop on US-bound freight trains, AP reported.
Meanwhile, in Ciudad Juárez, there was confusion among many migrants following the expiration of Title 42 and the Biden administration’s new rules.
“We did see … people from different countries approaching our team with questions, for example, on how CBP One works,” Everardo Esquivel, the IRC’s senior communications officer for Latin America, told the Guardian, referring to the US Customs and Border Protection app.
“We met a family from Ecuador on Wednesday and they had just arrived in the city a couple of days before … and they had been hearing different information on how to use the app so they didn’t have much clarity. They didn’t know properly what was going to happen after 11 May,” Esquivel said.
The new rules have prompted extensive criticism from politicians and immigration advocates. Republicans have seized on the policy change to slam Biden’s approach to immigration in advance of the 2024 election.
Donald Trump, the Republican presidential frontrunner who this week was found liable for sexual abuse, was among the chorus of Republican critics. “You’re gonna have tens of thousands of people pouring into our country,” Donald Trump said of Title 42’s expiration during his CNN town hall.
Some Democrats have also slammed Biden’s policies as too stringent. “It’s evident that there’s been an unmistakable shift in the president’s immigration policy,” Politico quoted the Illinois Democratic congressman Chuy Garcia as saying. “I know that the administration is in a tough spot, but it’s beyond disappointing to see them trying to appease Republicans on immigration.”