EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Federal officials have started a pilot program to take vulnerable migrants out of Title 42 protocol and allow them to approach U.S. ports of entry.

Mexican officials say they have escorted approximately 300 non-Mexican asylum seekers to the Paso del Norte International Bridge in the past two weeks to begin their asylum claims in El Paso.

The migrants were mostly women from Central America and elsewhere with small children in tow. Some have gone through traumatic experiences on their journey, such as a woman who survived a highway crash in which dozens of migrants died when the commercial truck they were riding in overturned.

“The fact they are crossing into the U.S. does not mean they automatically will be getting asylum,” said Enrique Valenzuela, director of the Chihuahua Population Council, which runs the Juarez Migrant Assistance Center. “They will be placed under Title 8 procedures. … Once they go through all this process, they may possibly be subject to deportation if they are not granted asylum.”

Last month, the Biden administration announced the pilot program and said it would operate in selected border enclaves, including Tijuana-San Diego and El Paso-Juarez.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Thursday told Border Report that Title 42 – a public health order to prevent the cross-border spread of COVID-19 – remains in place. The exemptions are in line with the original order’s intent of protecting vulnerable populations. If a migrant believes the description applies, he or she can make an electronic petition at a dedicated email inbox or through the CBP One app.

“(The Department of Homeland Security) continues to operate in accordance with the CDC order (and) continues to grant Title 42 exceptions on a case-by-case basis” for humanitarian reasons, CBP said in a statement to Border Report.

The agency said it is scheduling an average of 30 exemptions in El Paso based on the requests it receives. CBP has made the Mexican government and other stakeholders aware of the process but says it’s solely responsible for it.

Still, Mexican government officials, Juarez migrant shelter operators, other stakeholders such as El Paso immigrant advocacy nonprofits, and United Nations agencies are assisting the migrants south of the border.

On visits to Juarez this week, Border Report learned the shelters are assisting vulnerable migrants to understand the process and e-filing system and Mexican officials are receiving migrants green-lighted to approach the ports of entry and escorting them in an orderly fashion to the Paso del Norte International Bridge. Also, some El Paso nonprofits who represent migrants have assisted them in getting Title 42 exemptions.

“We have a good relationship with (CBP). We have worked with them on getting people pulled out of Title 42,” said Linda Corchado, interim executive director at Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center.

Corchado said it’s her understanding that a lot more than 300 migrants have been taken out of Title 42 to date. “It’s close to 1,000 exempted now,” she said.

Groups of 20, 30 and sometimes 60 migrants enrolled in the program are going over the bridge every morning. Mexican officials are fielding dozens of daily in-person and telephone inquiries from migrants wanting to know if the border is open.

The officials emphasize that the U.S. border remains closed but acknowledge more migrants keep coming to Juarez in anticipation of the May 23 stated rollback of Title 42.

“It’s important for people to know that the end of Title 42 does not mean the United States will open its doors to let them enter to request political asylum just like that,” Valenzuela said. “It’s important for people to wait for official information and not let themselves be tricked by smugglers that now is the chance to get in because that is not it, that is not what the end of Title 42 will bring.”

Operators of church-run shelters contacted this week by Border Report say their buildings are at or near capacity, with new migrants coming every day.

Migrants can be seen by the river levee or crossing the Rio Grande every day, walking toward the border wall and turning themselves over to U.S. Border Patrol agents.

Migrants from Haiti cross the Rio Grande at El Paso, Texas, to turn themselves into waiting U.S. Border Patrol agents and seek asylum. (Border Report photo)

Officials on both sides acknowledge misinformation is rife among the migrants regarding how easy — or difficult — it is to cross the border and remain in the United States. The officials say human smugglers who brought them to the border for fees of up to $15,000 are misleading them. So are local groups that contact recently expelled migrants and offer to lead them past U.S. border agents for a much lower fee.

Valenzuela said he fears a lot more migrants will come to the city by May 23. “At this point, we know more people will be arriving expecting that Title 42 will mean that for some reason they will be allowed to cross into the U.S. It’s important for them to know that’s not what is going to happen,” he said.