migrants at the border Mexico with the United States were seeking shelter from the cold early Wednesday morning, while the restrictions that prevented many people from seeking asylum in the United States were maintained beyond the expected date.
The US government on Tuesday asked the Supreme Court to not remove the limits before Christmas, the day after Chief Justice John Roberts issued a temporary order to maintain the restrictions introduced during the pandemic. Before Roberts issued that order, they were set to expire on Wednesday.
Shortly after midnight, when Title 42 would have ended, all was quiet on the banks of the Rio Grande in Step, where the National Guard was deployed. Hundreds of people had gathered near razor wire fence put up by the Texas National Guard, but left in the afternoon when US authorities told them to come to a gate for processing in small groups.
A woman in the crowd on the riverbank went into labor and was assisted by Border Patrol agents, said First Sgt. Suzanne Ringle. There were many children in the crowd, she added.
In Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, across the border from El Paso, hundreds of migrants continued to line up in the hope that the restrictions would be lifted and they would be allowed through.
In Tijuana, where an estimated 5,000 migrants were staying in more than 30 shelters and many more were renting rooms and apartments, the border was quiet Tuesday night as news circulated among asylum seekers that nothing had changed. Several 30-foot-tall razor-wire walls along the border with San Diego made the area a challenge for illegal crossings.
Under the restrictions, authorities have expelled asylum seekers in the United States 2.5 million times and turned away nearly everyone who sought asylum at the border on the grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19, according to a public health rule called Title 42. Both United States and international law guarantee the right to seek asylum.
The federal government also asked the court to reject last-minute attempts by a group of conservative-leaning states to uphold the measure. He conceded that ending the restrictions would likely lead to “disruption and a temporary increase in illegal border crossings,” but pointed out that the solution is not to extend the order indefinitely.
Because a decision on the matter could come until the last minute, the pressure has been building in communities on both sides of the US-Mexico border.
In El Paso, Texas, the Democratic mayor, Oscar Leeser, warned that the shelters in Ciudad Juárez are at maximum capacity, with some 20,000 migrants willing to cross into the United States.
At one point Tuesday night some people were allowed to enter in groups through a gate in the wall between the two bridges connecting downtown El Paso to Ciudad Juárez, not unusual for that point in the city. border. The news that the gate had been opened sent hundreds of people running along the concrete banks of the Rio Grande, leaving behind smoldering bonfires.
The Texan city took measures to expand its capacity to receive more people and adapted large buildings as shelters, while the Red Cross made 10,000 cots available. Local authorities also hope to ease pressure on area shelters by moving migrants to other large cities in Texas and surrounding states, matching them with relatives or sponsors in coordination with nonprofit organizations.
“We will continue to be prepared for whatever comes,” Leeser said.
The state this week deployed members of the Texas National Guard to El Paso, where they used barbed wire to cover an opening in the border fence on the banks of the Rio Grande (or Grande) River, which became a popular crossing in the past few days for migrants who waded through the shallows to get closer to immigration officials. The agents used a loudspeaker to announce in Spanish that it is illegal to cross at that point.
Texas announced the dispatch of 400 National Guard members to the border city after local authorities declared a state of emergency. Leeser said the declaration was primarily intended to protect vulnerable migrants, though a Texas National Guard statement said the deployment included forces used to “repel and return illegal immigrants.”
In San Diego, a sense of normalcy has returned to the busiest border crossing in the country despite the uncertainty. The San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce said they were informed by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that the western half of the huge pedestrian crossing, the most modern part, would reopen for travelers to the United States starting on Wednesday at 6 in the morning. The lanes, which lead to a high-end shopping center, have been closed to nearly all migrants since early 2020 to facilitate Title 42 processing.
The reopening comes “just in time for last-minute shoppers, those visiting family, and those working during the holidays,” the chamber wrote to its members. She indicated that she did not know when the area would be reopened for those traveling to Mexico from the United States.
Immigrant rights activists have said Title 42 restrictions, imposed under provisions of a 1944 health law, run counter to national and international obligations to people fleeing to the United States to escape persecution. and that the pretext is obsolete due to improvements in treatments to combat the coronavirus. The activists filed a lawsuit to end the use of Title 42. A federal judge upheld their argument last November and set December 21 as the date to end the use of the rule.
Conservative-leaning states argued that the increase in the number of immigrants would impact services such as public safety and health care, and warned of an “unprecedented calamity” at the southern border. They said the federal government does not have a plan to deal with the surge in migrants.
The federal government opposed the appeal, telling the court on Tuesday that it has directed more resources to the southern border in preparation for the end of Title 42. This includes more Border Patrol processing coordinators, increased surveillance and more security at ports of entry, according to the Biden government.
There are currently about 23,000 agents deployed on the southern border, according to the White House.
“The solution to that immigration problem cannot be to indefinitely extend a public health measure that is now recognized by all to have outgrown its public health justification,” the government wrote in its petition to the highest court.
However, the federal government also asked the Supreme Court to give it some time to prepare in case it allows asylum restrictions to be lifted. If the Supreme Court makes a decision before Friday, the government wants the restrictions to remain in effect until the end of December 27. If the court makes a ruling on or after Friday, the government wants the restrictions to remain in effect until the second business day after the order.
At a religious-affiliated shelter in El Paso, a few blocks from the border, the Rev. Michael Gallagher said local religious leaders have tried to raise resources and adapt available space. On Tuesday, a gym at the Sacred Heart Church housed 200 migrants, mostly women and children. Dozens of people were sleeping on the street in front of the church early Wednesday morning.
Title 42 restrictions apply to all nationalities, but have been applied to a greater extent to migrants from countries that Mexico agrees to receive after being expelled by the United States: Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and more recently Venezuela, in addition to Mexico.
Santana reported from Washington, DC Juan Lozano in Houston and Alicia Fernández in Ciudad Juárez contributed to this report.