With the expiration of immigration restrictions enacted during the pandemic this week, two cities along the U.S. southern border—El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico—began making preparations on Sunday for an influx of as many as 5,000 new migrants per day.
On the Mexican side of the border, where hundreds of people had been waiting to turn themselves in to U.S. authorities just a few days prior, only piles of abandoned clothing, footwear, and backpacks remained by Sunday morning. Uncertain on the Mexican side, a young man from Ecuador approached two journalists and asked if they knew what would happen if he turned himself in without a sponsor in the United States. He then removed his shoes and socks and hopped across the shallow water.
There was a line of about a dozen people waiting for him on the American side, by a small fence guarded by several Border Patrol vehicles.
On Sunday, El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego told The Associated Press that the area, which contains one of the busiest border crossings in the country, was coordinating housing and relocation efforts with groups and other cities, as well as calling on the state and federal government for humanitarian assistance. As of Wednesday, when public health rule Title 42 expires, the area is bracing for a flood of new arrivals that could double their daily numbers.
Since March of 2020, when the rule went into effect, more than 2.5 million migrants have been deterred from crossing.
Despite working at a migrant shelter in a low-income area of Ciudad Juárez, 31-year-old Carmen Aros had limited exposure to American politics. She even mentioned that she had heard the border could close on December 21st.
She had just given birth to her fifth daughter and her husband had gone missing when she decided to escape the violence caused by drug cartels in the Mexican state of Zacatecas. She is on a list to be paroled into the United States and hears from the Methodist pastor who runs the Buen Samaritano shelter once a week.
She was sitting on the bunk she shared with the girls and said, “They told me there was asylum in Juarez, but truthfully, I didn’t know much.” “We arrived… and now let’s see if the United States government can settle our case.”
Dozens of migrants, many of whom had fallen ill due to the cold, watched Sunday’s World Cup final on two televisions at a massive shelter run by the Mexican government in a former factory in Ciudad Juárez.
Dylan Corbett, director of the Catholic organisation Hope Border Institute, which helps migrants in both El Paso and Juarez, said that it is difficult to plan due to the policy uncertainty. Two months ago, the group opened a free medical clinic.
You’ve been holding a lot of hurt inside, Corbett told me. What’s going to happen scares me. Faith communities are left to “pick up the pieces and deal with the consequences” as a result of government policy chaos.
About eighty migrants huddled together in El Paso as sleet fell outside while they ate tacos prepared by volunteers. This week was predicted to be particularly cold, with temperatures dropping well below freezing.
Veronica Castorena, who had brought out tortillas, ground beef, and blankets with her husband to distribute to those who would otherwise have to sleep on the streets, said, “We’re going to keep giving them as much as we have.”
Owner of a local trucking school Jeff Petion said he was here with employees to assist migrants for the second time. “We found them out here in the cold and the hunger, and we wanted them to know that they are not alone.
But retiree Kathy Countiss across the street from Petion expressed concern that the influx of newcomers could spiral out of control in El Paso, diverting law enforcement’s attention and resources away from criminals and toward asylum seekers.
On Saturday, Mayor Oscar Leeser of El Paso, Texas, declared a state of emergency in order to acquire more funds from local and state governments to construct emergency shelters and provide other urgently required aid.
Samaniego, the county judge, said the order was issued the day after El Paso officials wrote to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott asking for humanitarian aid, specifying that what was needed most was aid in caring for and relocating the newly arrived migrants rather than more police.
Samaniego claims he has heard nothing in response and is considering making a similar emergency declaration for the entire county if the city does not receive state aid soon. He called on the federal and state governments to fund the initiative, saying that while a plan was in place, insufficient funding, supplies, and manpower were holding them back.
According to Samaniego, El Paso officials have been working with various groups to house migrants temporarily while they are being processed, given sponsors, and relocated to larger cities from which they will be transported via plane or bus. Samaniego has announced that, beginning on Wednesday, all agencies involved in emergency response will work together out of a centralised emergency command centre, much like they did during the COVID-19 outbreak.
On Sunday, neither Abbott nor representatives from the city of El Paso nor the United States Customs and Border Protection responded to requests for comment.
Abbott has spent billions on “Operation Lone Star,” an unprecedented border security effort that has included busing migrants to so-called sanctuary cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Washington. There is also a massive presence of state troopers and the National Guard along the Texas-Mexico border.
Furthermore, the Republican governor of Texas has advocated for ongoing efforts to construct former President Donald Trump’s wall using mostly private land along the border and crowdsourcing funds to help pay for it.
El Paso, which had been the fifth busiest of the nine Border Patrol sectors along the Mexico border as recently as March, jumped to the top spot in October, surpassing Del Rio, Texas, which had replaced the Rio Grande Valley in Texas as the busiest corridor in lightning speed late last year. There’s no telling what changed between September and now that made El Paso such a strong magnet for so many migrants.
Recent illegal crossings in El Paso, initially dominated by Venezuelans and more recently by Nicaraguans, harken back to a brief period in 2019 when the westernmost reaches of Texas and the eastern end of New Mexico were quickly overwhelmed by new arrivals from Cuba and Central America. The illegal crossing activity in El Paso had been relatively low for years.
Meanwhile, around 300 migrants started walking northward from a region near the Mexico-Guatemala border on Saturday night, only to be stopped by Mexican authorities. Some planned to show up on December 21 in the mistaken belief that they would no longer be able to request asylum once the measure expired.
Migrants to the United States frequently spread false information about the law. The majority of the people in the group were from Central America or Venezuela and had crossed into Mexico from those countries after waiting in vain for transit or exit visas, migration forms that would have allowed them to cross Mexico and enter the United States.
Erick Martnez, a migrant from Venezuela, expressed his desire to reach the United States as soon as possible before the border was closed.