MATAMOROS, Mexico (AP) Migrants rushed across Mexico’s border Thursday hoping to enter the United States in the final hours before pandemic-related asylum restrictions are lifted — a change many fear could make it harder for them to stay.
As the midnight deadline approaches, migrants in Mexico undress before descending a steep bank into the Rio Grande River, clutching plastic bags full of clothes. A man carried a child in an open bag over his head.
On the American side of the river, the immigrants donned dry clothes and forced their way through the barbed wire. Many surrendered to the authorities immediately and hoped they would be released while pursuing their cases in the backlog of immigration courts, which takes years.
President Joe Biden’s administration unveiled drastic new measures to replace the restrictions known as Title 42. Rules issued have allowed border officials since March 2020 to quickly return asylum seekers across the border on the grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19.
The new policies clamp down on illegal crossings while also creating legal pathways for immigrants who apply online, seek a sponsor and undergo background checks. If successful, the reforms could fundamentally change how migrants arrive at the US-Mexico border.
But this is a big “if”. President Joe Biden has acknowledged that limit It will be messy for a while. Immigrant advocacy groups threatened legal action. Immigrants fleeing poverty, gangs, and persecution at home remain desperate to reach the American mainland at any cost.
William Contreras of Venezuela said Title 42 was good for people From his ruined country in South America. He heard that many immigrants before him had been released in the United States.
“What we understand is that they won’t let anyone else in,” said Contreras’ friend Pablo, who declined to give his last name because he planned to cross the border illegally. “This is why we are so urgent to cross the border today.”
While the address is 42 It prevented many from seeking asylum, and it did not entail any legal consequences, which encouraged repeated attempts. After Thursday, the immigrants face being banned from entering the United States for five years and a possible criminal trial.
Detention facilities along the border were far beyond capacity, and Border Patrol agents were told Wednesday to begin releasing some migrants with instructions to appear at US immigration within 60 days, according to a US official. The official was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter and provided information to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Agents were also told to begin releases in any area where detention facilities were at 125% capacity or the average detention time exceeded 60 hours. They were also instructed to start releasing if 7,000 migrants were arrested across the entire border in one day.
Border Patrol stopped about 10,000 migrants on Tuesday, in one of its busiest days on record, according to a second US official who provided information to the AP on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.
That’s nearly double the daily average of about 5,200 in March, the latest publicly available data, and close to the 11,000 that US officials had projected is the upper end of the increase they expect after Title 42.
The official said more than 27,000 people are being held by US Customs and Border Protection.
On Thursday, about 400 immigrants huddled amid high winds raking sand on the Rio Grande river bank east of El Paso as groups of Texas National Guard soldiers built barbed wire barriers.
A couple from Columbia approached the wire asking if they could start a fire because a 10-year-old boy was shivering in the desert cold. Most of the migrants huddled together under thin blankets.
Major Sean Strode of the Texas National Guard said his forces made it clear to migrants the consequences of crossing illegally.
“Immigrants don’t really know what’s going to happen,” Strode said.
The Department of Homeland Security announced on Wednesday A rule that makes it very difficult for anyone traveling through another country, such as Mexico, to qualify for asylum. It also introduced curfews with GPS tracking for released families in the US ahead of initial asylum checks.
The administration considered holding the families until their initial asylum requests were approved, but opted instead for a family curfew, which will last from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. and begin soon in Baltimore, Chicago, Washington and Newark, N.J., according to a U.S. official who spoke. The condition of anonymity as the information was not intended to be public.
Families who do not appear for screening interviews will be selected by the immigration authorities and deported.
At the same time, the administration has introduced expanded new legal pathways in the United States
Up to 30,000 people per month Those from Haiti, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela can enter if they apply online with a financial sponsor and enter through an airport. Processing centers are opening in Guatemala, Colombia and elsewhere. Up to 1,000 can enter a day through land crossings with Mexico if they get an appointment on an online application.
In San Diego, more than 100 immigrants, many of them from Colombian families, are sleeping under plastic tarps between two border walls, watched by Border Patrol agents who had nowhere to take them for processing.
Albino Leon, 51, said the end of Title 42 prompted the family to make the trip.
“With the changes they’re making to laws, it’s now or never,” said Leon, who traveled to Mexico from Colombia and crossed the first border wall to reach the US mainland.
Miguel Meza, head of immigrant programs for Catholic Relief Services, which has 26 immigrant shelters in Mexico, estimates there are about 55,000 immigrants in border cities across the United States. More are arriving daily from the South, in addition to immigrants expelled to Mexico by the United States.
Immigrants have strained some American cities over the past year.
Elias Guerra, 20, came to Denver last week after hearing it was a welcoming place where he could get a free bus ticket to his final destination. After four nights in a church shelter, the city offered a $58 ticket to New York. Left on Wednesday night.
“It’s comfortable here, it’s safe, there’s food, shelter and toilets,” Guerra said, waiting with other migrants in a parking garage where the city welcomes the new arrivals.
Associated Press writers Coleen Long and Rebecca Santana in Washington; Christopher Sherman in Mexico City; Gerardo Carrillo in Matamoros, Mexico; Maria Verza in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico; Anita Snow in Phoenix; Nick Riccardi in Denver; Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, New Mexico; Giovanna Dellorto in El Paso; and Elliot Spagat in Tijuana, Mexico.
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