A look at the rise in migrants at the border as Title 42’s future remains unclear

Yuko Smith Photography/Getty Images, FILE

(NEW YORK) — In the last couple of days, hundreds of migrants have been trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas, as the future of Title 42, the Trump-era border restriction ordered at the beginning of the pandemic, is in question.

ABC News’ Matt Rivers, who is at the border, spoke with “Start Here” Monday about the situation and how a possible repeal of the order next week could affect the rise in migrants.

START HERE: Matt, you’ve covered immigration for years. How abnormal is a sight like the one you’re looking at?

MATT RIVERS: Where we are right now, which I’m literally looking at the downtown skyline of the city of El Paso, what I’m seeing, is hundreds of migrants beneath the border wall here. That is unusual to see. We’ve seen large groups of migrants end up in other parts of the border over the last few years, with hundreds of people arriving at once. For example, people will remember, in 2021, there were thousands of Haitian migrants that ended up in a place called Ciudad Acuna, which is right across the border from Del Rio, Texas. But to have this many migrants here on the border in downtown El Paso essentially is relatively unprecedented.

I have come to this part of the border for years now, this exact spot on the border [and], many people often cross here because the Rio Grande is quite low here, and I’ve never seen anything like this. When we arrived on Sunday evening, we saw hundreds of people who had just crossed all at once.

This was a group of people that had gotten together over the last several weeks. We don’t know exactly how all of these people managed to come together, but what we do know is that they arrived here in Ciudad Juarez on Sunday using buses. So mainly these groups of hundreds of people arrived in Ciudad Juarez all at the same time, and they collectively made a decision, as is often what happens in a lot of these caravans…to cross all at once. And so basically, for the first time that I’ve seen at this particular border crossing…hundreds of people decided to cross the river at once. And what that did was effectively overwhelm, very quickly, the relatively limited migrant facilities that Customs and Border Protection officials have.

They can only process a certain amount of people at a time, and so you saw hundreds of people in line. They’ve been there for more than a day now. Border Patrol agents are prioritizing women and children. They get processed first, [and] single males then thereafter. [They’re] either going to be selectively released pending other immigration proceedings in the United States, or they will be taken to other Border Patrol facilities along other parts of the border. Because, simply put, the El Paso sector right now, where we are, is just overwhelmed by the number of migrants that are arriving there.

START HERE: Is it this key deadline coming up in the immigration policy debate? Title 42 is this policy that was implemented during the pandemic that basically made it easier for us to boot migrants out of the country when they arrive. That’s supposed to be going away soon. I’m wondering, is that changing what types of crowds are going to be crossing the border?

RIVERS: It very well might. I mean, every single person. And when I say every single person, I mean every single person has the same opinion that I’ve spoken to here on the Ciudad Juarez side of the border in Mexico. They say that the amount of people that are going to be showing up because of this policy ending is going to grow perhaps substantially.

This was a policy that was put in place during the Trump administration. It is actually a health policy order. It’s a directive that allows the United States for public health reasons to immediately expel people from the United States, migrants from the U.S., who otherwise would be granted asylum cases or at least asylum hearings. And that has been in place now going back to 2020. There’s a possibility, depending on a couple of court cases that are pending, that the Title 42 policy will be ending as soon as next week. And this is something that migrants know about. So the migrants that we’ve seen cross already in just the last 36 hours, they’re not waiting for that policy to end.

I have personally spoken to a half dozen migrants on this side of the border, and they’re representative of many other people who say they are waiting for Title 42 to end potentially next week.

START HERE: Oh, like Dec. 22nd, I’m going to cross?

RIVERS: Exactly. Dec. 22nd. That’s my day, or maybe even on the 21st, whenever that ruling comes down, they’re leaving the shelter; they’re going across and they’re going to apply for asylum in the United States. So the crowds that we’re seeing today could be even greater next week. It’s the border. We can’t say anything for sure, but that is certainly a possibility and something that people on both sides of the border are planning for.

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