This is the crisis at the US border


As a Trump-era immigration policy remains in limbo, so do the lives of thousands of migrants waiting across the U.S. border, many sleeping in the cold in overcrowded camps or shelters, with the hope to cross to seek asylum.

In Matamoros, Mexico, near the U.S. border across from Brownsville in the far south of Texas, the migrants, mostly Venezuelans and Haitians, live in a large camp, with tents covered with tarps and clotheslines between them. Some families have been waiting for weeks.

Migrants who spoke to CNN by phone and in person described conditions in the camp as dire. They sleep under tents and don’t know where their next meal will come from. Temperatures are expected to drop below freezing in the coming days.

Many, including sick mothers and children, live on the streets, in abandoned houses and on sidewalks while they wait. “They feel desperate,” said Glady Edith Cañas, director of the nonprofit organization Ayudándoles a Triunfar.

In the heart of their limbo: Some migrants have been waiting for the end of the public health border policy known as Title 42. The 2020 policy, which officials said was an effort to slow the spread of Covid-19, allows authorities expel quickly. Migrants found at the southern border, with some exceptions.

The Title 42 policy was supposed to end on Wednesday, but the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, suspended its termination on Monday. Until the court issues an order – which can come at any time – the authority will remain in effect; the biden administration is asking the court to end the policy next week.

Officials have predicted that the repeal of Title 42 will lead to an increase in the number of migrants trying to cross into the United States, and border cities are bracing for a flood of people.

Now, as the end of Title 42 is delayed, uncertainty hangs over those waiting at the border.

CNN drone pilot Al Meshberg captured video of a large group of migrants gathered on the Mexican banks of the Rio Grande and a large police presence from the US Border Patrol, Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas National Guard on the US side.

As CNN cameras rolled, a group of migrants, including small children, crossed the river on a raft. Moments after the migrants crossed into the United States, the migrants could be seen emerging from bushes wrapped in synthetic blankets as they were escorted to Border Patrol vehicles.

This week in Matamoros, some used inflatable rafts to cross the Rio Grande, pulling themselves with a rope attached to the American side. In a video of a crossing there obtained by CNN, some are heard saying they were tired of waiting.

Meanwhile, in the westernmost tip of Texas this week, about 800 miles northwest of Matamoros, National Guard troops and state police lined one side of the Rio Grande in El Paso, and armed members of the Mexican army line up some parts of the other side in Ciutat Juárez.

There, after crossing the river – wading among the discarded belongings of those who went before them – they have lined up for hours near the border wall in recent days to turn themselves in to US Border Patrol agents.

As the sun went down, some lit fires to keep warm or wrapped themselves in blankets and stood in line.

A group of migrants wait on the US side of the Rio Grande as the Texas National Guard blocked access to parts of the border with barbed wire and vehicles as seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico on December 20, 2022.

Early Tuesday, members of the National Guard and state troopers laid barbed wire, blocking a common crossing used by thousands of migrants in recent weeks. Four people were arrested after they tried to crawl under the barbed wire, the video showed.

Migrants hoping to cross were told Wednesday morning to go to a point about a mile down the river. There, once again, they lined up outside the border wall on the US side to submit their asylum applications.

Elsewhere on the American side, shelters are full, and yet not everyone is protected. A crowd of migrants could be seen sleeping on the ground in front of a bus station in El Paso on Sunday.

And the region will be dangerously cold Friday night and Saturday morning: Wind chills could reach 15 degrees early Saturday in El Paso and 20 in the Brownsville area.

El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser declared a state of emergency on Saturday, due to an increase in migrants who have recently arrived in the community and are living in what he described as unsafe conditions.

The mayor said Monday that he heard more than 20,000 migrants were on the Mexican side of the border, waiting for Title 42 to be lifted.

Drone footage showed a large crowd of migrants queuing near the border in El Paso on Tuesday, with families and young children waiting near barbed wire and Texas National Guard troops.

Across the Rio Grande, Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, has also seen an increase in arrivals in recent weeks, according to Mayor Pérez Cuéllar. “This is a city of migrants,” he told CNN.

Thousands were also waiting for Title 42 to be lifted in Reynosa, a Mexican city across the border in the Rio Grande Valley, including 4,000 who, as of Sunday, were staying in two shelters and about 4,000 in other camps and surroundings. according to pastor Héctor Silva.

Migrants cross the Rio Grande into the United States from Ciudad Juárez on December 18, 2022.

Migrants arriving at the border often make arduous journeys to get there.

One migrant, who identified himself as Brian, told CNN in Spanish that he and his mother left Venezuela three months ago full of dreams of a life in the United States. Only he made it to South Texas.

The mother and son were traveling through the infamous Darien Gap, a dangerous 37-mile stretch of jungle through which migrants cross from Colombia to Panama.

Brian said he was helping his mother cross when he grabbed a branch and then fell off a cliff and into a river.

Now on his way to New York, Brian said he’ll never forget the look in his mother’s eyes when she fell.

If Title 42 is lifted, the way migrants are processed at the border would return to how it was before 2020. Under this system, migrants are removed from the country, detained or released into the United States while their cases progress immigration .court

The Department of Homeland Security projected last month that between 9,000 and 14,000 migrants could try to cross the US southern border daily when Title 42 ends, more than double the number of people crossing at that time.

Crossings are already increasing in some areas.

In the past two weeks, border authorities in the Rio Grande Valley in far south Texas have found between 900 and 1,200 migrants a day, a federal law enforcement source told CNN. That’s reminiscent of a surge in 2019, when officers found at least 1,000 dailies, the source said.

And a senior Border Patrol official said last week that more than 2,400 migrants crossed daily into the United States near El Paso over the weekend, describing the number as a “huge increase in illegal crossings ” in the area.

Meanwhile, housing the arriving migrants has presented a challenge.

“I really think our asylum seekers are not safe today, because we have hundreds and hundreds of them on the street and that’s not how we want to treat people,” the El Paso mayor said Saturday.

Two vacant schools in El Paso will be used as temporary shelters for migrants, city officials announced Tuesday, in addition to three emergency shelter hotels.

The city is also sending teams to the various areas where migrants congregate to provide transport services and temporary accommodation.

“All eyes are on El Paso, and for that reason, we need to show the world the compassion our community is known for and illustrate the resilience and strength of our region,” said City Manager Tommy González in a statement.

The American Red Cross has deployed resources and personnel to El Paso to help with the influx of migrants, the organization said in a statement Wednesday. The organization has provided phones to organizations working in the region so migrants can reconnect with family members.

Migrants sleep in the cold outside a bus station on December 18, 2022 in El Paso, Texas.

The Department of Homeland Security last week released a plan for the scheduled end of Title 42. It involved increasing resources at the border, including hiring nearly 1,000 Border Patrol processing coordinators, and increasing transportation resources , such as flights and buses.

Despite the freeze on ending the policy, US authorities are moving forward with planning.

“We’re continuing as if nothing has changed,” a senior U.S. Customs and Border Protection official told CNN, adding that there are still policy discussions to provide other legal avenues for Nicaraguans, Haitians and Cubans who represent a large number of encounters.

As for what happens Wednesday if the expiration is still on hold, an official said there may be a “mini increase.”

“I think there are some who probably haven’t gotten the message and won’t until they believe,” the official said. “There are some already committed that will cross over.”

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