Thousands surrender to Border Patrol as Title 42 ends
New Mexico emergency officials say they’re depending on El Paso nonprofits
A woman cries as she is allowed through Gate 42 after days of waiting on the south side of the border wall to be accepted for processing. (Corrie Boudreaux for Source NM)
EL PASO — Under the shadow of Gate 42, Elizabeth Ramirez repeated “I didn’t want it to be like this,” as she crossed over the Rio Grande, low and sluggish over algae.
She was one of a group of two dozen people surrendering to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol on Wednesday. The people crossing would say where they were from – Colombia, Peru, Venezuela – children waved, people threw thumbs up or made hearts with their hands to the cameras and members of the media.
Ramirez walked nearly last, crying. She said that coming to the U.S. was a shared dream, between herself and her 13-year old daughter. She told reporters that her daughter was killed in Hermosillo, Sonora, where Ramirez was from.
“I’m holding her right here,” she said, carrying her daughter’s ashes in a bag to the bus waiting below the embankment.
Ramirez is one of the thousands of people to surrender to the border patrol in recent days, as a massive shift in immigration policy looms on the U.S. Southern border.
Title 42, a policy enacted in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, ends midnight Eastern time on May 11, expiring with the federal emergency order. It refers to a section in a 1994 public health law that allows curbing migration in the name of public health. Initially ordered under the Trump administration, it continued under President Biden.
The policy allowed authorities to immediately expel people seeking asylum at the border into Mexico, or to their country of origin, billing it as a way to limit the spread of the coronavirus. National medical experts joined with human rights groups to object to the policy, saying it has no basis in public health.
Over three years, authorities expelled people more than 2.8 million times. Unaccompanied children were exempt from the rule.
After the policy expires, the U.S. returns to federal immigration code Title 8, which restarts the legal processes to remove or deport people from the United States for entering the country illegally. Seeking asylum, like what Ramirez others are attempting, in the United States is a legal method of entering the country.
Customs and Border Patrol Agent Fidel Baca called the return to Title 8 a return to normalcy.
“We’ll be seeing an implementation of consequences for entering illegally,” he said. The consequences can be steep including a five-year ban on reentry and the possibility for prosecution for repeated attempts.
CBP agents at Gate 42 estimated that between 1,500 to 2,000 people were expected to enter Wednesday. More than 300 people were waiting to turn themselves into border patrol agents at 6:30 a.m.
Thousands of people have been sleeping on the streets of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez in recent weeks. In that time, people have been making the crossing. Tensions are high between migrants and authorities after a detention center fire in Juárez caused the deaths of 40 people left behind locked doors by guards.
Area shelters have been serving higher numbers of people since August 2022, organizers said, and that they’re focused on maintaining day-to-day operations
“We are just trying to keep our shelter open and care for people,” Father Rafael Garcia told Source NM in a sidewalk interview before the Sacred Heart Catholic Church.
The city announced a plan last week to open temporary shelters at vacant schools. Three Texas border cities – El Paso, along with Brownsville and Laredo – declared a state of emergency in the lead up to Title 42’s expiration.
Lessons from 2019
Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima said local groups and officials made policy changes around people entering the country after hundreds of people were essentially stranded in towns near the border.
In 2019, the Department of Homeland Security dropped off more than 1,000 people and the city was partially involved in sheltering them. Now that responsibility lies with local nonprofits, he said such as El Calavario United Methodist Church or Border Servant Corps.
“For the most part, they have replaced the city and the county in taking care of migrants,” Miyagishima said.
A lot has changed in intervening years, said El Calavario Pastor George Miller in a phone interview, saying that people from all over the world, not just Central and South America, need accommodations.
He said the nonprofit now receives some reimbursement for shelter and food from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and appliances from parent organization Church World Services, rather than purely through donations.
El Calavario allows people to stay overnight and for two days, offers food, clothing and arrangements for transportation to meet with family or other sponsors. Staff includes legal advisor and a social worker.
The capacity for the shelter is 50 to 60 people a day, five days a week. While the numbers fluctuate, the past week immigration authorities brought five busloads, totaling about 250 people.
“Everybody is anticipating that we are going to probably be at full capacity for over the next month or two,” Miller said.
Border Servant Corps did not respond to requests for comment.
Local nonprofits are not driving the emergency plan, said Stephen Lopez, the emergency manager for Doña Ana and Las Cruces.
Since he said the shelters in Las Cruces are voluntarily receiving people, and El Paso has more capacity, there’s no need to enact emergency measures, which could include building a temporary shelter at the Doña Ana fairgrounds.
“Right now, there are no indicators that the capacity for processing in El Paso will be overwhelmed,” Lopez said.
Lopez said he is in contact sometimes daily or weekly with emergency officials in El Paso, and federal agencies.
El Paso officials at the Office of Emergency Management did not respond to requests for comment.
The federal government made assurances in recent meetings that people were not just going to be dropped off in area cities, such as Deming or Las Cruces, said Doña Ana County Sheriff Kim Stewart.
Stewart echoed the sentiment that El Paso nonprofits are expected to provide the services to people crossing the border.
“We believe the NGO setup in El Paso will handle this quite well,” Stewart said.
This story was produced by Source NM, an affiliate of States Newsroom.
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