Surges of migrants are building at the southern US border as the Trump-era Title 42, an emergency health order instituted during the Covid-19 pandemic, is about to be lifted. It was put in place three years ago and will expire at 11:59 p.m. Eastern on Thursday.
Border agents, state and local officials and even President Biden’s top aides in Washington, are all bracing for the arrival of tens of thousands of migrants in the coming days. Already, people have begun amassing in U.S. border towns, anticipating the end of Title 42, which since 2020 has allowed the government to swiftly expel citizens of several countries back to Mexico.
Even cities as far flung as New York are preparing for incoming surges as some GOP governors of the border states, like Governor Abbott of Texas, have been sending busloads of migrants on to so-called sanctuary states. New York City Mayor Eric Adams (D) accused Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Monday of “once again deciding to play politics with people’s lives” by sending asylum seekers to major cities with Black mayors.
In anticipation, three cities in Texas — Brownsville, Laredo and El Paso — have declared a state of emergency. Outside the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in downtown El Paso last week, hundreds of people were spread out over several blocks. In just days, the numbers there have soared to about 2,000 people from a few dozen, and more keep arriving. Families sleep on collapsed cardboard boxes at night, affixing sheets to fences to create shade during the day. Able-bodied men are asking for bus money to reach Houston, Denver and Orlando, where they said jobs await; little children roam the alleyways scavenging for food and begging for change.
“It’s a real crisis,” said Father Rafael Garcia, surveying the crowd sprawling in every direction one day last week. “If this is now, what is it going to look like after May 11? How is this going to unfold?”
White House officials said they have worked for months to prepare for the likely surge. They have built temporary facilities to house thousands more migrants, hired contractors and cut processing time for people in custody. They have also taken steps to encourage a more orderly flow of migration.
New and tougher rules for asylum seekers will also go into effect on Thursday. At the same time, the administration is working with the United Nations and other countries to open processing centers in Colombia and Guatemala to encourage migrants to apply for refuge in the United States or other countries without trekking to the border. Recently, programs were added for migrants from a handful of other countries.
The president last week ordered 1,500 troops to assist at the border. But even so, officials are expecting a crush of people in the days ahead.
Shifts in migration patterns are largely due to economic forces and social unrest; these are relentlessly driving migrants north to the United States, but the move is part of a global phenomenon. European countries are also experiencing record numbers of arrivals. On Saturday a total of 1,326 people arrived by sea in 23 landings on the tiny Sicilian Island of Lampedusa, a staging post for migrants and refugees attempting the dangerous crossing to Europe. On Sunday, a further 607 migrants and refugees arrived in seven separate landings, taking to 1,649 the number of people in the hotspot against an official capacity of less than 400. The tiny island is overwhelmed and its resources stretched past any reasonable limits.
Greece is similarly unable to cope. Recently it activated the EU Civil Protection Mechanism to benefit from material support to help cope with the influx of refugees and asylum seekers. It requested items such as tents, generators, beds, sanitary equipment and emergency first aid kits.
Yet, as the crisis at the southern US border demonstrates, there is no stopping the stream of new arrivals.
In the US the situation is additionally complicated by a raging debate over how to fix the nation’s broken immigration system.
Despite all the precautions that have been taken, and the precautions put in place, no one is certain what will happen after Thursday. The federal government is expecting as many as 13,000 migrants each day immediately after Title 42 measure expires, up from about 6,000 on a typical day.
But asked what is likely to happen, one official posted along the border told reporters, “I have no idea” and said of a possible surge: “I think it’s already here.”