Detention facilities along the US-Mexico border have surpassed capacity as a growing number of migrants cross into the United States leading up to the May 11 expiration of a Covid-era border restriction known as Title 42, according to a Department of Homeland Security official.
As of Saturday morning, there were more than 20,500 migrants in US Customs and Border Protection custody along the US southern border, the official said, stressing the number of people in custody fluctuates throughout the day.
The Rio Grande Valley sector, which encompasses south Texas, had nearly 7,000 migrants in custody as of Saturday morning, the Homeland Security official said. The majority are Venezuelans.
Officials have seen an uptick in migrants crossing the US-Mexico border in anticipation of the expiration of Title 42, which was invoked at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and has allowed border authorities to quickly expel certain migrants. There have been around 7,000 daily encounters on the US southern border in recent days, a number expected to rise in the coming weeks.
Brownsville, in the Rio Grande Valley sector, is dealing with a surge of migrants.
“I want to say the first two weeks of April, we were averaging about maybe 1,700 Venezuelan nationals entering illegally into the country through that particular area in Brownsville,” said Gloria Chavez, Border Patrol Chief for the Rio Grande Valley Sector. “And then two weeks later, towards the end, here the last eight days, we saw an uptick of over 15,000 Venezuelans.”
Chavez said the Border Patrol’s holding capacity in the Rio Grande Valley is about 4,000, and Friday afternoon, about 7,500 migrants were in custody.
Chavez added Title 42 is still in place and her agents will be applying the order.
On May 11, when the nation’s coronavirus public health emergency ends, the Covid-era border restriction known as Title 42 is also expected to expire, meaning border authorities will no longer be able to quickly expel certain migrants south of the border.
Instead, US immigration authorities will return to decades-old protocols at a time of unprecedented mass migration in the Western hemisphere, raising concerns within the Biden administration about a surge in the immediate aftermath of Title 42 lifting.
Behind the scenes, administration officials have been racing to set up new policies to stem the flow of migration, but even with those put in place, officials recognize they could face an overwhelming number of people at the border who have been anticipating the end of Title 42, which has been the primary enforcement tool since 2020.
A senior Customs and Border Protection official told CNN the agency estimates “several thousand” migrants are waiting in northern Mexico to cross the border. El Paso, Texas – which Biden visited in January – and the Rio Grande Valley are among the areas expected to see an influx of migrants, officials said.
The return to traditional protocols includes restoring legal consequences for migrants who try to repeatedly cross the US-Mexico border, which officials expect may deter crossers. Under Title 42, the number of repeat crossers shot up amid little to no consequence.
The administration is also setting other plans in motion to try to manage the flow of migration, including rolling out a new rule, which would largely bar migrants who traveled through other countries on their way to the US-Mexico border from applying for asylum in the US, restarting a policy to expedite asylum screenings, and assigning more US Citizenship and Immigration Service employees to help interview migrants who ask for asylum.
Still, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said this week the department is preparing for what he described as a challenging few weeks ahead when the Title 42 authority lifts and as smugglers distribute misinformation to migrants.
The City of Brownsville has declared a state of emergency due to the recent influx of migrants, according to city Commissioner for District 1, Nurith Galonsky Pizana.
“On April 27, as mayor pro tem I signed a disaster declaration. These migrants who are making their way through Brownsville, they are not here to stay. They have a final destination outside of Brownsville and we will manage this with due process as these individuals seek asylum and eventually move on to their final destination,” Galonsky Pizana said during a news conference.
Many of the Venezuelans who have crossed into Brownsville illegally had been waiting across the border in Matamoros, Mexico, and have been trying to get appointments through the CBP One app, Chavez said.
The application allows migrants to get appointments to enter the US legally through a port of entry under an exception to Title 42. But appointments are hard to come by and migrants are apparently losing patience.
Chavez said the Border Patrol is using decompression measures to help manage the influx. Decompression is a term used by Border Patrol when migrants are transported from a sector at capacity to a sector with processing space.
“We are in partnership with the Laredo Border Patrol and the Del Rio Border Patrol. They are absorbing buses that are going now to Laredo and buses that are going to Eagle Pass, which is part of the Del Rio Sector. Those are on a daily basis and we are continuing to decompress as quickly as possible,” Chavez said.
Chavez said so far this year, Border Patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley have encountered migrants from 72 nationalities, including a recent uptick in Chinese nationals.