EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Migrants south of the border are taking a wait-and-see approach to claiming asylum since Title 8 processing and new federal rules kicked in last Friday, immigration advocates say.

Trump-era Title 42 expulsions based on a public health emergency ended on May 11 and migrants now must make online appointments to claim asylum. Those who don’t face legal consequences that could include a five-year entry ban into the United States and criminal charges for illegal re-entry for repeat crossers.

“A lot of people were shocked by the low number of people that we had entering on Friday. I wasn’t,” said Melissa M. Lopez, executive director of Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services (DMRS) in El Paso. “The messaging from the White House and (DHS) Secretary Mayorkas was very clear about the penalties going into effect on May 12.”

Lawmakers had warned about – and federal officials had been preparing for – an unprecedented number of migrants crossing the border after May 12 under the belief that it would be easier to gain entrance into the United States once Title 42 expulsions ceased.

The U.S. Border Patrol last month stepped up its messaging on social media that this was not true. DHS directed asylum-seekers to secure appointments through the CBP One app before coming to the border and the Biden administration last week published a new rule requiring those traveling to seek asylum in the U.S. to apply for protection first in the countries they traveled through.

“Overall, things have been relatively quiet (since Friday) and much of that is a reflection of individuals trying to get more information since the transition to Title 8 and the implications for them getting into the United States,” said Jennifer Babaie, legal director of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center.

Guatemalan migrants walk along the U.S. side of the Rio Grande and past an emptied-out migrant camp after crossing over from Mexico on May 13, 2023, to El Paso, Texas. After a big surge the week before, the number of new arrivals has dropped since the end of the U.S. Title 42 immigration policy. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Las Americas staff members have been in contact with migrants not only in El Paso but also across the border in Juarez, Mexico, where thousands have taken temporary residence, not only in shelters but in private homes and on the streets.

Babaie said many in Juarez went to the border wall last week to surrender and seek asylum prior to the end of Title 42. Others who were sold that asylum would be easier after May 11 find themselves “questioning their decisions now that they have more information; they were told things in their home countries that as soon as they arrived (here) realized were not true,” she said.

In Juarez, the Rev. Juan Fierro, director of Good Samaritan shelter, said a Mexican government crackdown near the border with Guatemala coincided with the transition from Title 42 to Title 8.

“In the southern border, a lot of people have been unable to proceed north. In Tapachula (Chiapas state), they are holding back people; they are trying to let them through in a more orderly way,” Fierro said on Monday. “Only people with permits are being allowed north so they can use CBP One” when they get closer to the U.S. border.

Las Americas is now focusing its efforts on helping migrants in Mexico overcome technical issues with the CBP One app. Some of those issues have to do with the quality of the cell phones the migrants carry, but others are technical glitches with the app, Babale said.

Processing centers full as migrants spent more time in custody under Title 8

Border agents were able to expel ineligible migrants from the country in a matter of days, if not hours, under Title 42. But the new Title 8 processing takes much longer.

Lopez said migrants in El Paso are now reporting they’ve been in custody between four and 11 days now that everyone is in Title 8 processing.

That slower pace of turnaround – whether it’s passing a credible fear interview and being released, or deemed ineligible and deported – accounts for the population at El Paso processing centers having reached historical population highs last week.

The City of El Paso’s migrant dashboard website, which is updated with data provided by CBP, on May 12 showed 6,242 migrants in CBP custody. On Monday, that number had dropped to 4,985 and only a few migrants could be seen on the other side of the border wall.

City of El Paso’s Migrant Dashboard as of May 15, 2023. (City of El Paso)

“A lot of people coming out of processing centers seem to be going straight to (El Paso County’s) migrant center for assistance with their travel,” Lopez said. Those migrants have received a notice to appear in U.S. immigration court at a later date, and are thus free to move about the country until then.

The migrant advocates say their organizations also are trying to understand how the new rules for asylum-seekers will affect the services they provide.

If asylum-seekers come from afar on the day of their appointment at an El Paso port of entry, the advocates have less than 24 hours to help them with critical fear interviews that often determine if they will be allowed to remain in the country.

“This new state of play changes things for us,” Lopez said. “We will have to shift our model […] to respond in a rapid-fire way without neglecting clients we already have. We will have to balance immediate needs versus long-term needs of clients.”

As for the migrants who were expelled under Title 42 but not repatriated to their countries of origin, many remain in border cities like Juarez looking for alternate ways to get into the United States, advocates said.

“In the next month or so, we’ll see how those trapped in Mexico by Title 42 will come in,” Babaie said, adding she encourages them to try to make CBP One appointments. If that does not work for them, “they would presumably seek alternate entry and they would fall under the asylum ban.”