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A top Biden administration official said on Friday that there was no “major influx” of migrants rushing to the southern border overnight after the expiration of the emergency public health order used to quickly expel people from the country.
“We continue to encounter high levels of noncitizens at the border. But we did not see a substantial increase overnight or an influx at midnight,” Blas Nuñez-Neto, an assistant secretary for border and immigration policy at the Department of Homeland Security, told reporters Friday.
Since March 2020, when the Trump administration invoked Title 42 for the first time at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, immigration agents have used it about 2.7 million times at the southern border. In fiscal year 2022, which ended in September, agents apprehended immigrants a record-breaking 2.3 million times at the southern border. Apprehensions hit 1.2 million on the southern border during the first six months of the current fiscal year.
Nuñez-Neto said agents still have to process migrants who crossed the border on Thursday to determine the total number of people who were apprehended.
El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser told reporters Friday that there was a spike in the number of migrants crossing from Mexico into the El Paso area in the past week and on Thursday immigration agents apprehended 1,800 migrants in the El Paso sector, which stretches into New Mexico. He said the city had prepared for the unknown — including converting two vacant middle schools into temporary shelters — but there were no major issues.
Leeser said 150 migrants released by immigration agents are staying in a city-run shelter and a hotel. He added the city will try to do as much as possible to help prevent migrants sleeping on El Paso's streets.
“We actually have had a very smooth transition as Title 42 lapsed, and we’ve gone to Title 8,” Leeser said, referring to the immigration law that imposes stiffer penalties on people who cross the border illegally.
In El Paso, outside Sacred Heart Church, dozens of migrants, mostly men and some women and children, sat against the walls of the building. Some El Paso police officers on bicycles patrolled the area. There were much fewer migrants on Friday afternoon than earlier this week, when an estimated 2,000 migrants were sleeping outside of the church.
Among the migrants was 18-year-old Daber, who wanted to be identified only by his first name. He said he was released by immigration officials two days ago after crossing the border and turning himself into Border Patrol in late April. He was held by agents for two weeks.
He said he left Venezuela in January with his father. His father was released earlier in the week and is in Atlanta with Daber’s two older brothers. He said he came to the U.S. to be able to work. His hope is to bring his mother, who is still in Venezuela, if he’s able to stay in the U.S. long term.
“I’m relieved to be in the U.S., but at the same time I’m worried I could still get deported,” he said sitting in the church’s alley, petting a black dog and smoking a cigarette.
Meanwhile, from Ciudad Juárez there were no migrants crossing the river to where last night hundreds were waiting to be processed by Border Patrol agents.
In the Rio Grande Valley, McAllen Mayor Javier Villalobos said he signed a disaster declaration Friday morning in response to the number of migrants crossing the Rio Grande in the area.
Villalobos said about 1,200 migrants are staying in a local park that has been turned into an emergency shelter with tents, restrooms, food and security. He said the park has the capacity to shelter 3,200 people and will soon be able to handle 5,000.
Villalobos said the city was prepared for more migrants than ultimately came Thursday night and Friday morning.
“It's not the numbers we initially expected and we hope it keeps that way,” he said.
Before Title 42 expired, U.S. officials had said they expected up to 13,000 migrants to cross the southern border every day after it ended. According to The Washington Post, more than 27,000 migrants were in U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody at one point this week, triple the official capacity.
With Title 42 gone, Border Patrol agents will go back to pre-pandemic immigration laws that impose stiffer penalties on migrants who enter the U.S. without permission than the emergency health order did.
The Biden administration has added new options to allow migrants to request asylum without going to the southern border, including a government cellphone app known as CBP One. Migrants also have the option of applying for asylum at new processing centers in Guatemala or Colombia, which will give successful applicants the option to legally enter Canada, Spain or the U.S.
Starting Friday, immigration agents will seek to deport migrants who attempt to enter the country without first having set up an appointment using one of those options.
The administration also has imposed stricter penalties on asylum-seekers who try to cross the border illegally: They could be charged with a misdemeanor of illegal entry, or a felony if they’ve tried to enter the U.S. multiple times. They could also be barred from the country for five years.
A rule that went into effect Thursday will deny asylum to migrants who passed through a third country where they could have sought asylum instead.
Migrants have complained that the CBP One app is faulty and repeatedly crashes whenever they try to make an appointment. The Biden administration on Wednesday increased the number of available appointments from 740 to 1,000 daily and expanded the window for seeking appointments from 10 minutes to 23 hours.
“We believe that the changes have been working well. I think it has taken a lot of the time pressure off noncitizens who used to have to scramble to sign up for an appointment … which would fill up very quickly,” Nuñez-Neto said.
Alejandra Martinez contributed to this story.
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