By Nouran Salahieh and Rosa Flores, CNN
With only hours left before Title 42 expires On Thursday night, the US is ending a surge of asylum officers, troops and federal agents to the southern border, anticipating that the demise of Trump-era border-restriction policy could spark an even larger influx of immigrants. than the country has already seen in recent weeks.
Approximately 1,000 asylum officers were dispatched to border patrol and immigration detention centers to help assess asylum claims,
That’s on top of the 550 US troops — primarily from the Army — which began a mission Wednesday to support Customs and Border Protection personnel at the U.S.-Mexico border, where officials said they will help monitor the border and provide data entry and storage support. , but they will not perform law enforcement duties.
“We are aware of the challenges that we are likely to face in the coming days and weeks, which have the potential to be very difficult,” Mayorkas told reporters in Washington on Wednesday.
The United States expects to see large numbers of migrants at the southern border in the coming weeks, Mayorkas said.
Title 42, a 2020 policy that officials say was aimed at stopping the spread of covid-19, has allowed US authorities to quickly return migrants found at the border to their countries of origin or send them back to Mexico, with some exceptions. It is scheduled to end Thursday at 11:59 p.m. ET, and officials have warned that the expiration could draw in a surge of migrants and worsen an already challenging humanitarian crisis at the southern border.
Authorities have removed migrants at the US-Mexico border more than 2.8 million times under Title 42 since the policy began. according to data from the US Customs and Border Protection..
Border authorities will rely instead on a decades old protocol with a few new wrinkles. That protocol, while it could have more serious legal consequences for those who cross illegally, often takes longer than Title 42 removals. In the days leading up to Thursday, makeshift encampments in border towns and border crossings have proliferated. they have already increased.
US border authorities found about 10,400 migrants along the southern US border on Tuesday, according to a Homeland Security official, continuing a upward trend in border detentions.
Many head to the US on long and dangerous journeys in the hope of finding a better and safer life. Experts say the migrants could be fleeing violence, migrating for economic opportunities or to reunite with family.
The border city of Laredo, Texas, is preparing for the end of Title 42 like “a hurricane is coming,” Mayor Víctor Treviño said Wednesday, adding that he was told Laredo would receive transfers of immigrants from other overwhelmed communities in Texas. Texas.
“Our fear is that we will be overwhelmed with these transfers of migrants and have the same situation as them,” Treviño said.
While the Texas border city of El Paso, which recently saw hundreds of migrants sleeping on the sidewalks During a surge in migration in the past week, bracing for another influx, a big concern is the apparent lack of a long-term solution, Mayor Oscar Leeser said.
“I can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel,” Leeser said at a news conference on Wednesday.
Brownsville Mayor Trey Mendez told CNN that his Texas city is “as prepared as we can be,” adding that while it’s unclear if lifting Title 42 will result in more immigrants, the city ” He has been on the front lines of this problem.” for decades.”
Hundreds of miles from the border, NY it has already been dealing with a surge in immigrant arrivals.
On Wednesday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams signed an executive order suspending parts of the city’s right to housing law, citing an expected influx of immigrants. He lawwhen it becomes effective, it requires the city to provide shelter to anyone who requests it, including recently arrived migrants.
“With more than 130 emergency sites and eight humanitarian aid centers already open, we have reached our limit, and this past week we had to resort to temporarily housing new arrivals in gyms,” Adams spokesman Fabien Levy said. , adding that the city recently seen more than 500 immigrants arrive each day.
Meanwhile, US Border Patrol Chief Raúl Ortiz played down Thursday night’s Title 42 expiration, telling reporters Wednesday that the increase that was expected to occur after the expiration has already occurred in the “last five or six days”.
“It’s not going to be as significant a draw to our processing resources,” Ortiz said. “I think our teams will be adequately prepared to be able to deal with those numbers.”
Still, political tensions they have mounted on the country’s immigration system.
“Even after nearly two years of preparation, we expect to see a large number of encounters on our southern border in the days and weeks after May 11; we are already seeing a large number of meetings in certain sectors,” said Mayorkas. “This puts incredible pressure on our people, our facilities and our communities, with whom we associate closely.”
What it looks like along the southern border
Along the border fences from San Diego, California, to El Paso and Brownsville, crowds can be seen sheltering in tents or lining up for processing, many of whom have made long journeys on foot or boarded freight trains. to have a chance to reach the other. side of the border to apply for asylum.
An estimated 155,000 migrants are in shelters and on the streets of Mexico’s northern states that border the United States, according to a source familiar with the federal estimates.
“Like many others, we are looking for a better way of life. We are looking for security to go out on the streets,” migrant Marcela Aguilar told CNN. KGTV in san diego
“Here we can have a better future,” said another migrant, Sergio Arias. KGTV. “We won’t have to live in fear”
A Venezuelan migrant waiting in Brownsville, who asked that only his first name, William, be used, told CNN he came to the US border because he learned about the expiration of immigration-era immigration restrictions. pandemic.
But he says he lost track of his wife and two young children while immigration authorities processed him.
“I thought we would meet, but they just processed me and then I had to leave,” William told CNN on Wednesday, speaking in Spanish.
William said local officials and charity workers have been unable to help him find his wife. “It’s been seven days,” he said. “I ask them where she is and they tell me they don’t know.”
Mayorkas has said that the expected increase may be due in part to misinformation from smugglers trying to exploit migrants for financial gain.
“Smugglers have been working hard for a long time to spread false information that the border will be open after May 11, it won’t be,” Mayorkas said.
Advocates also say that many of those who were evicted under Title 42 are increasingly desperate in the midst of dire straits.
human rights first says he has identified more than 13,000 incidents of kidnapping, torture, rape or other violent attacks against migrants and asylum seekers who were blocked or removed to Mexico under Title 42 since Biden took office.
The Biden administration is planning policy changes
Mayorkas stressed Wednesday that the end of Title 42 “does not mean our border is open.”
When the policy is lifted, US officials will lean more on the Decades Old Title 8, under which migrants could face harsher consequences for crossing the border illegally, such as being banned from entering the US for at least five years, they said. Asylum seekers who cross the border without first applying for asylum could be removed under the authority of Title 8.
While Title 8 carries more legal consequences, especially for those who are caught a second time, processing times under that authority take longer than Title 42 removals and could strain already scarce remedies.
“The transition back to Title 8 processing for all persons found at the border will take effect immediately when the Title 42 order is lifted,” the Department of Homeland Security said in a Wednesday news release.
The State Department plans to eventually open about 100 regional processing centers in the Western Hemisphere and “in the coming days” hopes to launch an online platform for immigrants to make appointments, Homeland Security officials said.
The Biden administration is also implementing a new migrant family program launched in the United States. to track them while they go through expedited removal proceedings, including a move that would require them to remain under home confinement, according to multiple sources familiar with the plans.
Besides The new regulation is expected to come into force this week would largely bar migrants who traveled through other countries on their way to the US-Mexico border from applying for asylum in the United States, with a few exceptions.
The CNN Wire
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CNN’s Rosa Flores reported from El Paso, Texas, while Nouran Salahieh wrote and reported from Los Angeles. CNN’s Nick Valencia, Priscilla Alvarez, Catherine E. Shoichet, Andy Rose, Rob Frehse and Joe Sutton contributed to this report.