Migrants cross US-Mexico border as Title 42 restrictions end

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Desperate migrants carried their babies over wide roaring rivers and through barbed wire as they raced to enter the United States as Covid-era restrictions lifted..

Thousands crossed the Rio Grande at the Mexico border as the US prepares to roll out a new regulation that presumes most migrants are ineligible for asylum if they passed through other nations without seeking protection elsewhere first, or if they failed to use legal pathways to enter the US.

Families make the desperate effort to cross (AP)
Families make the desperate effort to cross (AP)

The new system aims to get asylum-seekers to stop coming across the border illegally and start using an online system to book appointments to seek asylum at a ports of entry, but many migrants weren’t sure whether to trust it.

Some, including children, paced along a Mexico-U.S. border strung with barbed wire and bolstered by troops, unsure of where to go or what to do next. Others settled into shelters, determined to secure an appointment that can take months.

Meanwhile, the administration was dealt a potentially serious legal setback when a federal judge temporarily blocked its attempt to release migrants more quickly when Border Patrol holding stations are full.

Thousands are expected to attempt to cross (AP)
Thousands are expected to attempt to cross (AP)

At Matamoros, across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas, migrant families hesitated only briefly as the deadline passed and asylum restrictions shifted before entering the waters of the Rio Grande from Mexico, holding cell phones above the water to light the way toward the US.

Border force guards shouted for the migrants to turn back.

“Be careful with the children,” an official shouted through a megaphone. “It is especially dangerous for the children.”

The expired rule, known as Title 42, was in place since March 2020. It allowed border officials to quickly return asylum seekers back over the border on grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19.

While Title 42 prevented many from seeking asylum, it carried no legal consequences, encouraging repeat attempts. After Thursday, migrants face being barred from entering the U.S. for five years and possible criminal prosecution.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Jhoan Daniel Barrios, a former military police officer from Venezuela as he paced with two friends along the the border in Ciudad Juárez, across from El Paso, Texas, looking for a chance to seek refuge in the U.S.

“We don’t have any money left, we don’t have food, we don’t have a place to stay, the cartel is pursuing us,” said Barrios, whose wife was in U.S. custody. “What are we going to do, wait until they kill us?”

A U.S. official reported the Border Patrol stopped some 10,000 migrants on Tuesday — nearly twice the average daily level from March and only slightly below the 11,000 figure that authorities have said is the upper limit of what they expect after Title 42 ends.

More than 27,000 people were in US Customs and Border Protection custody, the official said.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas had already warned of more crowded Border Patrol facilities to come.

“I cannot overstate the strain on our personnel and our facilities,” he told reporters Thursday.

The Bidenadministration also said it is beefing up the removal of migrants found unqualified to stay in the US on flights like those that sent nearly 400 migrants home to Guatemala from the U.S. on Thursday.

Among them was Sheidi Mazariegos, 26, who arrived with her 4-year-old son just eight days after being detained near Brownsville.

“I heard on the news that there was an opportunity to enter, I heard it on the radio, but it was all a lie,” she said. Smugglers got her to Matamoros and put the two on a raft. They were quickly apprehended by Border Patrol agents.

Mazariegos said she made the trek because she is poor and hoped to reunite with her sisters living in the US.