BROWNSVILLE, Texas (Border Report) — With just hours until Title 42 expires, NGOs, law enforcement and local communities in South Texas are readying for the change in the federal processing of asylum seekers, as well as a potential wave of thousands expected to come across the border.
Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez issued a disaster declaration Thursday afternoon, which would set up his border county for relief funds. The county sits across the Rio Grande from Tamaulipas, Mexico, and the bustling border city of Reynosa, where upwards of 20,000 are waiting and expected to cross the Rio Grande from Mexico after Title 42 lifts at 11:59 ET.
Title 42 is the pandemic-era public health order put in place by the Trump administration in March 2020 that has restricted migrants for applying for asylum at the border in order to stem the flow of COVID-19.
The Biden administration has fought to keep Title 42 in place, but has been ordered by courts to lift it at midnight.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas says migrants who enter the United States in between legal ports of entry, and without scheduling asylum interviews via his agency’s CBP One app, will be turned back unless they can show extenuating circumstances that meet requirements for claiming U.S. asylum.
“The transition to Title 8 will be swift and immediate,” Mayorkas said Thursday at an afternoon White House press briefing. “Our plan will deliver results but it will take time for those results to be realized … a great majority of people will be removed.”
Title 8 vs. Title 42
The Department of Homeland Security plans to revert to the longstanding Title 8 immigration enforcement laws, which involves processing and documenting all who are apprehended and determined not eligible to remain in the United States.
Mayorkas has been stressing the “consequences” they will face, which includes a five-year ban from re-entry for those removed under Title 8.
Under Title 42, migrants were expelled immediately and many attempted to re-cross the border multiple times, DHS officials said.
South Texas city epicenter
Ahead of the end of Title 42, thousands have come across from Matamoros, Mexico, into the border town of Brownsville.
Over 30,000 have been processed in the past two weeks in a field processing facility, which DHS has named “Camp Monument.” It sits on a dirt levee just blocks from the Rio Grande and has porta potties, tents and buses going in and out.
Most are Venezuelans, a country the U.S. cannot repatriate them back to, and they have been released into the community.
They are seen walking throughout downtown Brownsville, waiting at the airport and bus station, washing cars for cash, and crowding the local McDonald’s, pooling their money to buy burgers.
On Sunday, eight men were killed, most from Venezuela, waiting for a city bus across from a migrant shelter that offers overnight stays, prompting nonprofits in the area to stress the need for “humanitarian” care of asylum seekers in South Texas.
A Welcome Center across from the downtown bus stop offers them meals, hygiene items, supplies, clothing and travel advice. And groups, like Team Brownsville and the Good Neighbor Settlement House, which staff the center with volunteers say they are ready for even more migrants to come across and need help after Title 42 lifts.
“The NGOs at the border, across the entire U.S./Mexico border, have been waiting on this day. We know that this was something that was coming and we we are prepared,” Astrid Dominguez, executive director of the Good Neighbor Settlement House nonprofit group, which is based in Brownsville, said Thursday.
“Here in Brownsville, has been these past few weeks because of the tragedy, migrants have been scared at just walking down the street. And we are trying to reassure them that this is not who we are. And you know, just give them a little bit of haven,” Dominguez said.
Migrants in Matamoros
A migrant encampment on the banks of the Rio Grande in Matamoros, south of the border, is mostly now full of “new arrivals,” Pastor Abraham Barberi, who runs the Dulce Refugio shelter in Matamoros, told Border Report.
Barberi says on Wednesday there were an estimated 1,000 to 1,200 people in the camp, which two weeks ago had over 2,000. He says most who are there are male adults and “very few children.”
He says last month the camp had over 600 children, but now there are not even 100.
He says most are Venezuelans who have come north arrive to the border “and quickly swim across the river.”
Joshua Rubin, a migrant advocate from New York City who founded the grassroots group Witness at the Border, is back in the Rio Grande and crossing daily to document the migrants who are waiting in Mexico.
He says he has seen dozens swim across the Rio Grande, despite barbed wire that has been placed on the riverbank by the Texas National Guard.
He says the migrants wait until Guard units move from an area “and then they lift the wire and cross together.”
New family processing rules
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, has announced a new process for family units who are apprehended at the border and slated for expedited removal, but want to apply for asylum and express a fear of persecution or torture in their home countries if they were to return.
The process is called Family Expedited Removal Management and ICE will put certain family heads of households on Alternatives to Detention technology — like the GPS-monitoring SMARTLink app — where they can be tracked. And they will be subject to a curfew, ICE said.
Mayorkas said Thursday families who are not deemed eligible for this program and are put in the removal process will be expelled from the United States within 30 days.
More removal flights
ICE also has announced it is increasing the number of removal flights to the countries of Colombia, Cuba, Guatemala and Honduras.
“We are scaling up removal flights,” Mayorkas said.
Thousands of asylum seekers were expelled via ICE Air flights on Wednesday, ICE says.
This includes several removal flights from Valley International Airport in the border town of Harlingen, Texas, as well as from El Paso.
Venezuelans sent to Mexico
Mayorkas said on Wednesday over 1,000 Venezuelans were sent back to Mexico under an agreement the U.S. government reached with the government of Mexico.
He said that Mexico also has accepted to take back Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans and is preparing to receive more when Title 42 lifts.