Officials brace for migrant surge as Title 42 ends
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Title 42 – a COVID-19 era policy that kept many asylum seekers waiting in Mexico – is set to expire Thursday night.
Border communities and states like New Mexico are bracing for a surge of migrants crossing the border, with little or no space to house them.
Federal officials say processing centers are already stretched beyond capacity.
KOB 4 will be at the border over the next few days to see how this plays out.
Migrants have gathered in downtown El Paso, outside the Sacred Heart Church Shelter, as they figure out what’s next.
Many have crossed outside of official checkpoints, and over the past couple of days, Border Patrol agents have convinced many to turn themselves in – with a likelihood that they’ll be allowed to remain in the U.S. with documents that would allow them to travel to a temporary home as they wait for an immigration hearing.
KOB 4 spoke to a number of nonprofits that are dealing with everyone who has made it from the other side of the border.
Their response to that offer has been robust, but once the change from Title 42 to Title 8 becomes official Thursday night, this area is expected to fill up again.
The question is how can a system that’s already maxed out, handle the crowds?
As far as New Mexico is concerned, a lot of these people will go through Las Cruces and potentially Deming. Both communities purchased buildings to handle crowds from a migration surge a few years ago.
Congressman Gabe Vasquez – who was on the Las Cruces city council back then – told KOB 4 Wednesday that border communities are preparing as best they can.
“The city has been collaborating already with the mayor of El Paso, with local nonprofits, with churches to help deal with the influx of folks that are coming to this country seeking asylum. And I’m working with Border Patrol and our local mayors to ensure that there’s an adequate federal response to process folks coming in, but we’ll have to see,” said Vasquez.
The sentiment of “we’ll see” is a common one here because no one is quite sure how busy it will be. A lot depends on the federal government and how quickly they process people who stay and who is sent away.
The Trump-era restrictions under Title 42 were put in place during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic before any vaccines were on the market.
Since then, U.S. officials used Title 42 to expel asylum seekers more than two and a half million times.
Now, those restrictions are ending.
“Even after nearly two years of preparation, we expect to see large numbers of encounters at our southern border in the days and weeks after May 11,” said Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
Mayorkas says a surge in border crossings is expected when the Title 42 restrictions end.
“We are already seeing high numbers of encounters in certain sectors. This places an incredible strain on our personnel, our facilities and our communities with whom we partner closely,” said Mayorkas.
There was a similar surge in crossings in 2022, when the Biden administration moved to end the Title 42 restrictions.
In December, facilities in El Paso reported being well over capacity, and the mayor there declared a state of emergency.
19 Republican-led states sued to keep the policy in place. The case went to the Supreme Court, which prevented the policy from ending.
Further arguments before the court were planned, but ultimately scrapped when the Biden administration outlined its plan to end the federal COVID-19 health emergency.
When the emergency order ends Thursday, so do the health orders associated with it, including the Title 42 immigration restrictions.