‘Eerily quiet’ night as Title 42 ends

Even as national attention drifts, questions remain for what people entering the country face

By: - May 12, 2023 5:05 am

Travelers cross the Paso del Norte bridge just prior to the expiration of Title 42 on Thursday night. (Photo by Corrie Boudreaux for Source NM)

May 10, 10 p.m., 24 hours before Title 42 expiration

GATE 42, CIUDAD JUÁREZ – The wind scatters fine silt from the edge of the Rio Grande, whipping at jackets, and tarps as a few hundred people at the base of the border barrier wait. 

Thousands surrender to Border Patrol as Title 42 ends

Loops of concertina wire curl upon each other, stacked on the embankment alongside the Rio Grande. Members of the Texas National Guard mill between trucks on the other side of a chain-link barrier.

People waited for hours on the U.S. soil, between the Rio Grande and border wall to surrender to U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents. They wrapped their hair and faces against the biting sand, or shared jackets and blankets against the chill.

Quiet conversations carried on.

Title 42, a measure enacted in the pandemic to deny entry to people seeking asylum, would end the next day, bringing with it uncertainty for people trying to enter the United States. Border authorities will return to Title 8, which restarts the legal process to remove or deport migrants who cross the border into the United States.

Steep consequences accompany the process, including a five-year ban on reentry after expulsion, and possible criminal prosecution for repeated attempts.

Mexican Consul in El Paso Mauricio Ibarra Ponce de León tours the area around Gate 42 with Border Patrol agents on Thursday morning. (Photo by Corrie Boudreaux for Source NM)

Leidy Ramos, 35, left Honduras on foot with her husband and four children after her brother was murdered. She described getting threats from the people who murdered her brother. 

“We had to leave the country entirely,” she said, describing that despite multiple moves, there were still threats to her family. 

Her oldest child, and two others aged 17 and 13 crossed over to El Paso, and were waiting there for Ramos, her husband and youngest to cross. 

Her sole goal was attempting to reunite with her children, she said.

May 11, 4 p.m.

Asylum officers rushing migrants through screenings, advocates say

DOWNTOWN EL PASO — The streets outside Sacred Heart Church in downtown were quiet. The people in front of the church dwindled to a few dozen. A volunteer opened the door and welcomed about 16 to file inside, telling Source NM that there was more available space. 

In addition to the return of Title 8, the Biden administration released new rules, which may deny asylum, that go into effect as Title 42 ends. It now requires migrants traveling through other countries on their way to the U.S. to seek protection there. Otherwise, they’re ineligible. Asylum is a legal form of migration, and requires people to declare in the country they intend to seek protection in.

The Biden administration also promised expanded access to CBP One, an app that allows people to schedule an appointment to seek asylum at a port of entry. The app, released in January, has only been opened for a small number of slots and often crashes.

This was the case for three migrants from Venezuela, who asked not to be identified because of threats they were fleeing.

Jose David Espinoza Escalona, 19, from Venezuela injured his foot in the journey, after it was caught in a train that braked suddenly in Juárez.  He crossed, describing a fear of authorities. He surrendered Wednesday after receiving a flyer from CBP, part of an operation to get more voluntary surrenders.

Jose David shows the papers he received when he surrendered himself to Border Patrol in downtown El Paso on Wednesday. He had originally crossed the border without being processed, but decided to heed the warnings that Border Patrol agents had passed out to migrants at dawn on Tuesday. (Photo by Corrie Boudreaux for Source NM)

He was released, with a court date six months from now in New York. He wants to go to Los Angeles, and find his cousin and uncle, who he traveled with.

“I was afraid they would send me back. Thank God that didn’t happen,” he said. “I was very happy because at least I get an opportunity, and many have not gotten that.”

May 11, 8 p.m.

The feelings of calm were unexpected for Karina Breceda, who runs a shelter for women and children in Juárez called New Wave Feminists Consistent Life Ethic Center.

“It’s eerily quiet to what I expected it to be. We thought this day was going to be chaos,” Breceda said. “It’s unusually calm.”

While capacity at the center allows for over 100 people, only eight women are staying in the shelter, and she’s not receiving any petitions.

“Most of the women decided to turn themselves in. Some were processed. Some of them weren’t,” she said. “The ones staying there are waiting for today, to see what happens to people.”

Breceda, who lives in El Paso, said she’s frustrated with the portrayal of the situation in the national media, pointing to the use of the word “invasion” by Texas officials.

Migrants wait throughout the night Wednesday in a dust storm at Gate 42, on land between the Rio Grande and the border wall, hoping they will be processed by immigration authorities before U.S. policy changes again. (Photo by Corrie Boudreaux for Source NM)

“This is a normal flow of migration,” she said. “That’s not going to stop, and then the pandemic made it so we weren’t processing people. It’s a manufactured backlog.”

Breceda called for more compassion, and resources for helping people enter the country.

“This isn’t the order we would like, but that’s because we’re lacking in humanitarian aid, not in enforcement,” she said.

May 11, 10 p.m.

PASO DEL NORTE BRIDGE — The pathways up to the U.S.-Mexico Border over the Rio Grande were nearly empty Thursday night.

More than 30 CBP agents stand across the line on the U.S. side.

Below, next to the river channel, Texas National Guard members sit across from a mural of the Virgin Mary, depicted as a guiding star for migrants. The phrase “the mystery of tears induced by borders” is emblazoned above her.

Breceda, the shelter director, helped paint that mural last fall.

Just after 9:30 p.m. agents expelled about 30 people over the bridge and into Mexico.

Minutes before the 10 o’clock expiration of Title 42, two families approach the border.

Olga Berenice, 22, her two children and sister Roxanna, 20, were the first in line Thursday night. They were already asylees, Roxanna said, after the murders of two of their brothers in 2019. They returned to Juárez for the funeral of Olga Bernice’s husband. Their parents live in Chaparral, New Mexico.

Olga, who is from Juárez, holds her younger daughter as she waits for the expiration of Title 42 atop the Paso del Norte Bridge. Olga will request asylum along with her sister because her husband and their brothers were all murdered in Juárez. (Photo by Corrie Boudreaux for Source NM)

A customs agent told Berenice in Spanish that her asylum may be invalidated because she returned to Juárez for a funeral. But agents let the families pass.

Customs agents at the port of entry told reporters they did not know what would happen with the case.

Just before the policy expired, immigration advocates represented by the American Civil Liberties Union sued the administration in a California federal court over the new policy restricting access to asylum. 

May 11, 11:40 p.m.

GATE 42, CIUDAD JUÁREZ — Several hundred people gathered at the gate.

Portable toilets were added, and the area was entirely fenced off by a concertina wire barrier.

Texas National Guard members stood alongside the edge in pairs. Whoops and cheers accompanied buses that pulled up to the gate, as families lined up and were escorted in lines by Border Patrol.

Customs and Border Protection agents question families who have presented themselves at the Paso del Norte bridge to request asylum as Title 42 expires on Thursday night. (Photo by Corrie Boudreaux for Source NM)

Just after midnight, a Peruvian family of five waded the river.

National Guardsmen told them they could not enter there and were pointed to the Zaragoza Bridge or the Cordova Bridge, both of which are miles away from Gate 42.

A woman and another child inside the barrier, left and joined the family. 

The parents carried their children, crying, and headed east, towards the lights. 

Corrie Boudreaux contributed to the reporting of this article.


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Danielle Prokop
Danielle Prokop

Danielle Prokop covers the environment and local government in Southern New Mexico for Source NM. Her coverage has delved into climate crisis on the Rio Grande, water litigation and health impacts from pollution. She is based in Las Cruces, New Mexico.