EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Title 8 processing of migrants crossing into the U.S. between ports of entry is already the new normal on the Southwest border, the national leader of the U.S. Border Patrol says.

On Tuesday, only 17% of the 10,000 migrants encountered by the agency were expelled under the Title 42 public health rule that expires late Thursday, Border Patrol Chief Agent Raul Ortiz said.

“To process all the population under Title 8 is not going to be such a significant draw in our processing resources. I think our teams out there will be prepared to deal with those numbers,” Ortiz said while visiting El Paso on Wednesday. “The challenge will be when we start apprehending 12,000 or 13,000 migrants a day.”

In Juarez, a Border Report/KTSM camera crew reported that 1,000 migrants were waiting on the other side of the border wall late Wednesday to turn themselves in for processing at Gate 40 in El Paso’s Lower Valley.

Ortiz said no one can predict what will happen the day after Title 42 ends, but the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has put in place the pieces to confront the challenge. That includes opening more processing centers – such as the one planned in Northeast El Paso in June – asking for thousands of soldiers to take over administrative tasks from the Border Patrol and hiring contractors to provide food, daycare and medical services.

DHS has published new rules requiring asylum seekers to apply for protection in countries they travel to before coming to the U.S. It also has made improvements to CBP One, the online application those seeking refuge must use to obtain an appointment as a U.S. port of entry.

Ortiz said the agency has received intelligence that the number of migrants set to come over from Mexico after Thursday may not be as large as feared. Only some 60,000 migrants may be poised to petition asylum in the U.S. at the end of Title 42. That’s about 33% less than some news reports have suggested.

“As we continue to increase our virtual processing capabilities, keep bringing in processing coordinators and contractors, we will be able to handle the processing part of this,” Ortiz said. “It really just becomes the detention piece that becomes a challenge.”

U.S. Border Patrol Chief Agent Raul Ortiz

DHS is trying to coordinate with nonprofit groups that assist migrants on the U.S. side of the border to ensure they can handle those who are released on parole. “We have to coordinate with our NGO partners that their capacity matches our capacity. That’s when we’ve run into issues in some communities,” Ortiz said. “And transportation is huge – not just transportation from the border to processing centers, but transportation out of those border communities.”

One wild card in play is to possibly place Mexican nationals illegally crossing the border on a path of “voluntary departure.” That’s a tool that the Border Patrol used for decades prior to the use of Title 42. In theory, the Mexican government cannot turn back its returning citizens.

“If you have the voluntary return and voluntary departure option, the difference in percentages with Title 42 is probably minuscule,” he said, adding that remains just an option.

Asked by reporters about the Biden administration’s perceived shift toward enforcement in light of ever-growing numbers of asylum-seekers and economic migrants, Ortiz acknowledged that bringing consequences to those who have no lawful claim to be in the country is a priority.

“We have to increase the consequences. Our role is to manage the number and increase consequences whenever we can,” he said. “That’s going to depend on detention space and (prosecutions). Right now, we’re averaging 90 to 100 prosecutions a day. […] If someone assaults an officer, that’s got to be a priority. If we find a criminal alien, that has to be a priority.  We have to increase prosecutions.”