Los Angeles, California, USA – For two years, thousands of people have been living in overcrowded shelters or makeshift camps in Tijuana, Mexico, waiting for the United States to reopen a legal avenue for asylum.
Now, as the Biden administration moves forward with its plan to end Title 42With a health order invoked due to COVID-19 effectively barring most asylum seekers from entering the US, aid groups at the border are bracing for a change in migration patterns.
“We hope that more people will start arriving [in Tijuana] with the anticipation that they will be processed,” said Dulce García, executive director of Border Angels, a nonprofit organization that finances rent, water, electricity and food in 17 shelters in Tijuana.
To prepare, Border Angels is expanding shelter capacity, calling in volunteers and holding regular meetings to combat misinformation.
But Garcia said the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which last week announced that Title 42 would be rescinded by May 23, it has not communicated how it plans to process people once the policy ends, making it difficult to advise asylum seekers.
In February, Mexican officials vacated a camp that Garcia said had formed due to a mistaken belief among people living there that if they formed a line, they would be processed in order. “[US authorities] they are not expressing their plans or intentions, that is what is causing the chaos,” he said.
He urged migrants and asylum seekers to trust information from aid organizations that have been supporting them on the ground. “The big concern we have is fraud,” Garcia told Al Jazeera. “Unscrupulous people in Tijuana have been taking advantage of them and asking for thousands of dollars to cross them, knowing that it is not possible at that time.”
US border policies
Under international law, applying for asylum is a legal process that must be available to anyone who shows up at the US border and declares that they fear returning to their home country.
But US authorities used Title 42 to quickly expel thousands of people who arrived at the border in dangerous conditions, including kidnapping and sexual assaultin Mexican border cities or in their countries of origin – without allowing them to apply for protection.
More than 1.7 million Title 42 evictions they have been carried out since the policy was first implemented in March 2020 by then-President Donald Trump, according to government data, drawing widespread criticism from human rights groups and others.
With the lifting of COVID restrictions in the US, the Biden administration had faced mounting pressure to end Title 42. On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC ) from USA time to get ready.
Although Title 42 is about to end, another Trump-era restrictive border policy that allowed the US to send asylum seekers back to Mexico to await their immigration hearings in the US, known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), or “stay in mexico” – is still in place.
When President Joe Biden took office last year, the government completely suspended new registrations with the MPP. In February 2021, the US began letting in those with pending cases and in June, the Biden administration tried to end the policy, but a federal judge later ruled that its termination was inappropriate and ordered the government to restart MPP.
Hollie Webb, senior attorney for the advocacy group Al Otro Lado’s Border Rights Project in Tijuana, said she hopes that when Title 42 ends, the U.S. back to mexico under that program. “MPP was disastrous everywhere he was,” he told Al Jazeera.
“People were forced to wait in extraordinarily dangerous conditions where they did not have access to proper medical care. People missed court dates because they got kidnapped.” Violence, sexual assault and extortion were rampant, he added.
Although Title 42 stopped most asylum applications at US ports of entry, it has not stopped border crossings. In particular, the number of single adults arrested by the US border patrol after crossing between ports of entry has skyrocketed since the government first invoked Title 42.
Charlene D’Cruz, an immigration attorney based in Brownsville, Texas, said she hoped to see more people arrive in border cities before the end of Title 42, adding that it will encourage people to seek asylum through official crossings. instead of paying smugglers to take them away through the desert and Rio Grande.
“Who wants to take their children and get on a boat at the mercy of coyotes when they could have walked across the bridge and claimed asylum?” she said.
Meanwhile, when Title 42 ends, DHS expects overcrowding in its detention centers, according to the CDC order. DHS said it is adding staff and resources to increase its capacity and will build tents as overflow facilities.
Garcia and Webb called on DHS to process people quickly instead of cramming them into detention, where they can stay for days or weeks. “Do I personally believe that DHS has a plan and a strategy to prevent that? I don’t know, I don’t think so,” Garcia said.
Meanwhile, efforts are underway in the courts and the US Senate to keep Title 42 in place.
three states filed a lawsuit this week alleging that rescission of the policy will bring “absolute chaos and catastrophe” and seeking cancellation of the rescission order. Separately, Republicans are pushing for a vote to amend a $10 billion COVID-19 relief bill to continue Title 42. Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell said at a news conference on Tuesday that to move the legislation, “There will have to be an amendment to Title 42.”
In Mexico, García is attentive to new developments. “I hope that May 23 arrives and [I realise that] I had nothing to fear,” he said. “But I am with those sheltered in Tijuana, and they are skeptical.”