Large numbers of migrants are crossing the United States border just hours before pandemic-related asylum restrictions are set to end. There are fears among migrants that new policies will make it far more difficult to enter the country.
In the early days of the pandemic, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a public health order to stop the spread of COVID-19. The restrictions under the order are widely known as Title 42. It permitted U.S. officials to quickly expel migrants at the border. But it carried no legal threat, leading to repeat border crossing attempts.
The Biden administration has been releasing measures to replace Title 42 restrictions. They include opening processing centers outside the U.S. and screening migrants at the border. After Thursday, migrants face being banned from entering the U.S. for five years and possible criminal prosecution.
Rush to the border
The U.S. Border Patrol stopped about 10,000 migrants on Tuesday, one of its busiest days ever, one official told The Associated Press. That is almost twice the daily average of about 5,200 in March.
And more than 27,000 people had been detained by Customs and Border Protection, the official said, well above capacity. In March, 8,600 were detained.
In a move to clear out crowded holding centers, U.S. Border Patrol agents were told Wednesday to begin releasing some migrants. The agents instructed them to appear at an immigration office in the United States within 60 days, a U.S. official said.
At the same time, the U.S. has introduced new legal pathways into the country. Up to 30,000 people a month from Haiti, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela can enter if they apply online with a financial supporter and enter through an airport. Up to 1,000 can enter daily through land crossings with Mexico if they set up a meeting with government officials.
At the border
William Contreras of Venezuela told the AP that he heard many migrants were released in the United States.
“What we understand is that they won’t be letting anyone else in,” said Contreras’ friend, Pablo. The man declined to give his last name because he planned to cross the border illegally. “That’s the reason for our urgency to cross through the border today,” he said.
In San Diego, California, more than 100 migrants, many of them Colombian families, slept between two border walls. They were watched over by Border Patrol agents who had nowhere to take them for processing.
Albino Leon, 51, was traveling with his wife and daughter. News that Title 42 was ending led the family to want to make the trip now.
“With the changes they are making to the laws, it’s now or never,” said Leon. He flew to Mexico from Colombia and got past the first border wall to reach U.S. land.
About 400 migrants gathered under strong winds along the Rio Grande River near El Paso, Texas. Major Sean Storrud of the Texas National Guard said his troops have explained to migrants the results of crossing illegally.
“The migrants don’t really know what’s going to happen,” Storrud said.
I’m Dan Novak.
Dan Novak adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting by The Associated Press.
Words in This Story
capacity — n. the ability to hold or contain people or things
apply — v. to ask formally for something, usually in writing