These At-Risk Migrants Can’t Wait for Title 42 to End in May

On Thursday morning, atop the windy Paso del Norte Bridge that connects Ciudad Juárez and downtown El Paso, Tex., 30-year-old Magdalena tries to calm her nerves. It’s the closest she and her 10-year-old son have come to being allowed to enter the United States and she’s terrified of being turned away again, back to the shelters in Mexico where she and her son, who has a heart condition and needs medical attention, have been living for six months.

“This is very emotional for me,” she tells TIME in Spanish. “We’ve suffered a lot on our way here.”

Magdalena, along with her son, fled Guatemala last September after being threatened by gang violence back home. The couple have twice attempted crossing into the United States since September last year. Both times, they were expelled back to Juárez by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials who cited the U.S.’s Title 42 order, a controversial public health measure that the government has used since March 2020 to conduct nearly 2 million expulsions. Title 42 gives CBP the ability to quickly expel migrants without having to go through all of the steps involved in immigration procedures, including interviews with asylum seekers.

Nearly a week has passed since U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Title 42 expulsions would cease on May 23. But Magdalena and her son, who are joined on the bridge by 15 other migrants, and four unaccompanied minor children, can’t wait that long, says Crystal Sandoval, a senior paralegal at the Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, a nonprofit organization in El Paso that provides legal representation to immigrants. “These people cannot wait for weeks to see what our politicians do,” she tells TIME. “Their lives are at stake, these are very much life or death kinds of situations.”

The Administration’s decision last week to end Title 42 in May set in motion a series of cascading events—political opportunism, new legislation and lawsuits—and experts say its removal may help trigger a wave of new migration to the U.S.-Mexico border this spring. But for people already on the border, who have filled Mexico shelters to capacity, May 23 can’t come soon enough. Human Rights First estimates that nearly 10,000 instances of violence against migrants have been reported since the beginning of the Biden Administration.

Sandoval, along with others from Las Americas, have been helping vulnerable migrants to find ways around Title 42 for seven months. Usually, they appeal to the discretionary power that CPB officials are allowed to exclude particularly vulnerable migrants. Those gathered on the bridge on Thursday experienced gender-based violence, discrimination because of their nationality and language, or have dire medical needs that can’t be met in Juárez, Sandoval says. Sandoval and a group made up of migrants are allowed to travel to Paso del Norte at least 3 times per week. Today Sandoval is joined by a legal and administrative assistant from Las Americas’ Mexico office, and representatives from Kids in Need of Defense and the International Refugee Assistance Project who aid the unaccompanied minors.

Sandoval offers Spanish advice and Spanish language instruction to the group while they await clearance to enter America. CBP officers are watching. “Answer their questions with ‘yes’ or ‘no,’” she says. “And if you don’t understand something it is okay to tell them you don’t understand.”

Then Sandoval spots Magdalena, petite and standing in the back of the crowd with her back to the bridge’s chain-link fence. “You look so nervous,” Sandoval tells Magdalena, who smiles back shyly and then looks away, turning to her son for an embrace. “Well I am,” she quietly says. Don Ramson Mitton (26-year-old Haitian migrant) interjects. He is seeking Title 42 exemption with his wife, and nearly 2-year-old daughter. “We’re all nervous,” he says, smiling at Magdalena. Then he points to his daughter, who is playing with her parent’s suitcases. “Look at her, she isn’t nervous,” Mitton says, easing the tension. “As long as she has milk, she’s fine.” The crowd laughs.

From this tiny town, it is miles and miles away group of migrants waiting to cross into the U.S., conservative Democrats and Republicans in Washington are working to reverse the Biden Administration’s decision to end Title 42. Republicans presented a bill Wednesday to codify Title 42 in law until February 2025. Another bill was introduced by Republican Senators and Democratic Senators who are centrists. It would ask the Biden Administration not to remove Title 42 expulsions until it makes a plan to stop a flood of migrants.

“I’ll continue pushing for transparency and accountability from the Administration to help secure the border, keep Arizona communities safe, and ensure migrants are treated fairly and humanely,” Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, one of the bill’s authors, said in a public statement.

Continue reading:Biden faces Republican outrage over immigration after announcing the end of Title 42

DHS (Department of Homeland Security) last week announced it would be preparing to handle an influx of people after Title 42 is ended. Up to 18,000 encounters are planned by the Department per day. By comparison, there were 164,973 encounters at the U.S.-Mexico border in the entire month of February, according to CBP’s most recent data. The Administration has also sent more officials to assist with processing at the U.S. Mexico border. It has increased COVID-19 mitigation steps and vaccinations. The Administration made a few changes in asylum processing to speed up the decision-making process. It granted asylum officers authority to decide on certain claims, instead of the claim going through the backlog immigration courts system.

But the future of Title 42 also depends on the political winds in the U.S. With November midterm elections approaching, U.S.-Mexico border policy will likely become a political bludgeon, the topic of searing attack ads and social media posts—a fate that is sure to obscure the measure’s impact on people like Magdalena, huddled on the bridge.

Sandoval along with other Las Americas organizers insist that they need to take into consideration the uncertain futures for policies such as Title 42. Although the Biden Administration has announced it’s end, there is a possibility that it can be revived by a court order or another administration. After all, the Biden Administration ended another Trump-era measure, the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), or “Remain in Mexico,” last year, but not for long. Texas and Missouri sued the Administration, arguing that it didn’t follow proper procedure in ending MPP, and a court agreed. MPP is now back in operation.

On Monday, Republican Attorneys General in Arizona, Missouri, and Louisiana filed a lawsuit against the Biden Administration’s decision to end Title 42 on very similar grounds.

Continue reading:The Biden Administration’s Contradictions to Key Immigration Policies

“Basically, every immigration policy that any President does from here forward, I think they should just expect to be sued,” says Theresa Cardinal Brown, managing director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think tank. “Because Congress has been unable to pass any significant immigration legislation…courts are in the process of telling the country what our immigration policy is. And it’s chaotic.”

On the Paso del Norte Bridge A CBP officer starts calling names. Each one of them asks the migrants to go into the U.S. Magdalena gets the first call. She walks up quickly, almost running, grabbing her and her son’s only possessions, a backpack and a blue duffle bag.

The CBP officer calls out the name of the Haitian family. As Sandoval assists the parents and takes their son, Sandoval takes over. He smiles at the movement and people around him and draws attention to other pedestrians who are waiting. The migrants wave to him as they walk along the length of bridge towards the CBP Processing Center.

At the front of the line, Magdalena clutches her son’s hand as she waits for CBP officials to review her papers. “I’m still so nervous,” she says, a hand clutching her chest, but this time, her face tells a different story. She’s smiling. She is now looking forward to seeing her husband again after six months in refugee camps. They emigrated from Mexico two years ago. She’s officially on U.S. soil, and this time, at least for the foreseeable future, she’ll be able stay.

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