MATAMOROS (Mexico) (Reuters) – The U.S. ended COVID-19 restrictions on the border that had blocked many migrants. They immediately replaced the restrictions, also known as Title 42, with new, sweeping asylum rules designed to discourage illegal crossings.
This week, the word was spread to migrants that the new rules on asylum would make it harder for them to stay in the United States. In the hours leading up to a new regulation, thousands of immigrants waded into rivers, scrambled over walls, and climbed embankments in order to reach U.S. territory before midnight.
Some migrants surrendered themselves to border officials. Some migrants tried to sneak across the border.
The Rio Grande River was chin-high in Matamoros. Some people carried babies and bags above their heads in order to reach Brownsville, Texas.
After crossing the border to Juarez from Mexico, hundreds of migrants encamped on the streets in El Paso.
In San Diego, California - across from Tijuana in Mexico - more migrants, including families with small children, waited to be processed between two border walls.
Before the termination of Title 42 was announced, the Biden administration had to deal with record numbers at the U.S. Mexico border. This put pressure on the U.S. authorities as well as border cities.
Republicans blame Biden for softening the restrictive policies of his Republican predecessor, former President Donald Trump. Biden blamed Congress for failing to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
Title 42 was first implemented by Trump in March 2020, as COVID spread around the world. At the time, health officials stated that the order was intended to stop the spread of COVID in overcrowded detention centers. The order allowed U.S. officials to expel migrants quickly to Mexico or to other countries, without giving them the opportunity to ask for asylum in the United States.
Democrats, public-health experts and immigration activists saw it as a continuation of Trump's desire to block migrants at border.
Biden, whose campaign was aimed at reversing Trump’s policies, maintained Title 42 and expanded it.
Title 42 has expelled migrants more than 2.7 millions times, but this includes repeat border crossers. Mexico only accepts certain nationalities, including its citizens, Central Americans, and, more recently, migrants from Venezuela and Haiti. In the same time period, approximately 2.8 million migrants who were not eligible for expulsion, but still wanted to enter the United States, were allowed in under the Title 8 process. This allows them to file their immigration claims with the courts, which may take many months or even years.
'CHILDREN IN RISK'
The new asylum regulations of the Biden administration will replace Title 42, now that Title 42 and the COVID public-health emergency are ending.
Biden expanded the legal entry routes to the U.S., and this new rule assumes that most migrants will not be eligible for asylum because they have passed through another country without seeking first protection in another nation.
On Thursday, migrants scrambled to enter the country in a chaotic scene before the new rule came into effect.
WhatsApp video shows Mexican immigration officials walking with dozens of migrants in Matamoros, some carrying children on their shoulders. They then slide down the bank into the Rio Grande. A Mexican agent shouts off camera: "Don't risk the children!" Why are they so indifferent? Mexico's Immigration Agency confirmed that the incidents took place at around noon on Thursday.
Asylum officers in the United States rushed to determine what was required to implement the new regulation, and how to interview migrants detained at the border. Many of these workers were opposed to the new rules. Advocates said that they are similar to restrictions proposed by Trump, which were blocked in court.
An anonymous official of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said that the Biden administration hoped the new standard would allow migrants to receive an initial screening for asylum in one day. Reuters earlier reported that border detention facilities were maxed out, holding up to 28,000 migrants.
The person stated, "They are aiming for 24-hour turnaround. I do not see how this will happen."