McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The number of migrants attempting to cross the Southwest border from Mexico after Title 42 was lifted dropped by half this weekend, according to the Department of Homeland Security, and migrant crossings were down by two-thirds in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley.
“Over the last three days, we have seen approximately a 50% decrease in encounters compared to the days leading up to the end of Title 42. It is still early though, and we are mindful that smugglers will continue to look for ways to take advantage of the change in border policies,” Blas Nuñez-Neto, chief operating officer at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, told reporters during an online briefing Monday morning. “It’s still too early to draw firm conclusions. We are closely watching what’s happening. But we are confident that the plan we have developed by our U.S. government will work over time.”
But he cautioned that law enforcement is still heavily surged to the Southwest border region — and that includes a heavy concentration in South Texas.
“It is important to note that while Title 42 has ended, the conditions that are causing hemispheric migration at unprecedented levels have not changed,” he said.
The number of migrants, however, is lessening significantly, especially in South Texas.
RGV Chief Patrol Agent Gloria Chavez tweeted Friday — the day after Title 42 was lifted — that migrant border crossings in the Rio Grande Valley dropped 66%, compared to levels just days before. Chavez said there were 1,133 migrants apprehended, down from 3,300 on May 8.
Chavez called Friday “Day 1 of Title 8.” That’s the long-standing immigration removal law that the Biden administration has reverted to after Title 42 was revoked on Thursday night. Title 42 was a public health policy enacted in March 2020 under the Trump administration during the coronavirus pandemic that prevented migrants from claiming asylum at the U.S. border in order to stop the spread of the virus.
Once Title 42 went away, DHS reverted to Title 8 and announced serious “consequences” to those who do not attempt “legal pathways into the United States,” according to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
This includes a five-year ban on those caught entering between legal ports of entry; or those not applying for an asylum interview at ports via the CBP One app. Migrants also must apply for asylum in the first country they encounter, not only in the United States. Migrants who are found ineligible and returned to Mexico or their home countries and who try to return prior to five years face criminal prosecution in the United States, and up to a 20-year ban on attempting to cross again.
From Friday through Sunday, over 2,400 migrants were expelled to Mexico, Nuñez-Neto said.
Chavez posted photos on social media showing the removals of asylum-seekers from South Texas across international bridges back to Mexico.
Asylum-seeking immigrants were returned at ports of entry in the Rio Grande Valley and forced to walk back to Mexico on Friday, the day after Title 42 lifted. (Photos by U.S. Border Patrol)
Showing removal of migrants is something that U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat who represents South Texas, has long advocated, and has many times spoken about to Border Report. He says that will send a message to drug cartels and other human smuggling organizations, as well as to migrants who are thinking of heading north without prior U.S. authorization, to not attempt the crossings.
But many migrant advocacy organizations say the new policies are too harsh and do not offer enough consideration for vulnerable populations.
“Title 42 and similar deterrence-only policies may create more chaos than order. Instead, we need a balanced approach that recognizes that legal pathways and alternatives to the trek to the border are essential ingredients of disempowering smugglers and overcoming misinformation,” said Vanessa Cárdenas, executive director of America’s Voice.
Cárdenas says that the United States still does not have enough legal pathways.
“Everything that was broken and dysfunctional about our immigration system before Title 42 is still broken and dysfunctional. Our legal pathways to enter the country with a visa are still insufficient, our refugee program is still too small and our asylum system, which was not designed for the volume of people seeking safety, given the state of the visa and refugee systems, remains under-resourced,” she said.
Over 35,000 asylum-seekers, mostly Venezuelans crossed into Brownsville, Texas, across from Matamoros, Mexico, since mid-April. But on Friday, there were hardly any migrants to be found walking the streets of that border city, or waiting at the city’s bus station, where thousands had congregated for weeks.
Mayorkas says that Mexico has agreed to take back Venezuelans expelled from the United States. And given the photos that Chavez posted, it appears they are doing so.
Nuñez-Neto said Mexico also is bolstering law enforcement on its southern border, as is Guatemala, the country to Mexico’s south. He said Panama and Colombia are “undertaking an unprecedented joint effort to attack smuggling networks operating in the Darién (Gap).”
He said “thousands of non-citizens including single adults” were expelled over the weekend to 10 countries, including Colombia, Honduras and Peru. “Thousands more are being held in ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) facilities” and could soon be expelled, he said.
The Welcome Center in Brownsville, which is run by the nonprofits Team Brownsville and Good Neighbor Settlement House, on Sunday did not receive busloads of migrants released by DHS officials, as usual.
Kathy Harrington, a volunteer with Team Brownsville, posted to other volunteers on their Facebook site: “The big surge of Asylum Seekers came before the end of Title 42. We were swamped for about 10 days prior to its ending. The numbers we served on the first 2 days of Title 8 were a lot lower than predicted. We’ll see what this week is like.”
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com