HARLINGEN, Texas (Border Report) — The sun was barely up and the children were still visibly sleepy as they were toted on board two early morning deportation flights full of families being sent to Guatemala Thursday from the South Texas border.

Two youngsters tried to escape one woman’s grasp as she was patted down and questioned by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers before the trio walked up the 17 steps and on board one of the two flights.

Children being deported to Guatemala from Harlingen, Texas, on May 18, 2023, wait to walk up a ramp to the plane that carried 135 to Central America. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

A total of 260 asylum-seekers were flown to Guatemala on Thursday. This included 146 children and 114 adults, ICE officials told Border Report.

All were deemed ineligible to remain in the United States under the Biden administration’s new and expanded Title 8 enforcement polices, which replace the pandemic-era Title 42 immigration policies that ended last week.

“Since we resumed Title 8 processing on Friday morning, thousands of non-citizens including over 1,000 nationals from Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua have already been returned to Mexico and to over 18 other countries under our Title 8 authorities. This includes removals of single adults and families to countries including Colombia, Guatemala, Ecuador, and Peru,” DHS Assistant Secretary Blas Nuñez-Neto said Wednesday.

On Thursday, the agency conducted “multiple” ICE Air removal flights — as they are called — to El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Israel, ICE said.

Asylum-seekers are deported through the agency’s Enforcement and Removal Operations department when they do not have “a lawful basis to remain in the U.S., including at the order of immigration judges,” according to ICE officials.

When Title 42 ended at 10:59 p.m. CT on May 11, border enforcement officials immediately switched to Title 8. That requires migrants not cross the U.S. border illegally, and they must utilize certain legal pathways to seek asylum. This includes applying for asylum interviews via the CBP One app for appointments at U.S. ports of entry. Or applying for interviews at regional processing centers operated by the U.S. State Department and United Nations in several Latin American and Caribbean countries. Also all, except for Mexicans, are required to have applied for asylum in other countries they crossed into before entering the United States.

The processing of migrants under Title 8 takes longer than the expedited removals under Title 42 — which forbid migrants from applying for asylum at the U.S. border during the pandemic in order to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Title 8 processing can take 48 to 72 hours, or even longer. Officials believe the migrants sent back Thursday had come after Title 42 was lifted.

“Thousands more have been processed for expedited removal and are currently being held in CBP and ICE facilities as they move through this process and through the application of the new consequences in the lawful pathways rule,” Nuñez-Neto said.

But migrant advocates say it is still too early since the implementation of the new policies to know whether migrants are being properly vetted for exemptions to the Title 8 policies. Those who claim a fear of political or criminal persecution in their home countries can, and should be eligible for humanitarian parole in the United States.

Busloads of migrants were brought to the tarmac on May 18 of Valley International Airport where two deportation flights to Guatemala took off via ICE Air carrying 260 asylum seekers. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report Photos)

“We’re still trying to figure this out,” Priscilla Orta, supervising attorney for Project Corazon, a part of Lawyers For Good Government, told Border Report Thursday. “All those people have the right to seek asylum.”

All those people have the right to seek asylum”

Priscilla Orta, Lawyers for Good Government

On Thursday, very young children held hands with adults as they climbed the stairs to the plane.

Some young babies dangled from slings wearing only socks.

Cases of water were loaded, as well as diapers and food and other supplies for the flight.

A young boy prepares to board a deportation flight from Harlingen, Texas, on May 18, 2023, to Guatemala. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

ICE officials said they were not shackled because all on board were families.

They were brought in charter buses to the runway; patted down and screened by officers, including looking underneath long hair and at their ankles to ensure they had not guns or knives in their socks.

Shortly before 9 a.m., the first flight took off carrying 77 children and 58 adults.

The second flight soon after was loaded with 125 on board, including 69 children and 56 adults.

All will be required to wait a mandatory five years before trying to re-enter the United States under Title 8. If they try to come in before then, they face criminal prosecution and possibly a 20-year ban.