A potential change in immigration protocols may be just days away as the fate of Title 42 is decided in federal court.
Title 42 is a public health policy that was enacted by former President Donald Trump's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, allowing U.S. officials to quickly expel migrants entering the United States illegally, including those seeking asylum, on the basis of stemming the spread of COVID-19.
The CDC has said the policy is no longer needed to protect public health and will be lifted on Monday, but there has been pushback from Texas border cities and 23 other states. Their challenge was heard in court last week by U.S. District Judge Robert R. Summerhays of the Western District of Louisiana, as attorneys argued the CDC did not follow protocol in its move to lift Title 42.
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Critics say lifting Title 42 will lead to a migrant surge that the Department of Homeland Security is not ready for, while advocates say the order is not an immigration policy but a health one that is no longer needed.
NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth sent a team to get a first-hand look at what is happening on both sides of the Texas-Mexico border.
MIGRANTS SHELTERING IN MEXICO
There are approximately 5,000 migrants living in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, including 700 people living in a shelter a few blocks from the border, according to local officials.
More people arrive every day, according to those who run the shelter.
Most of the migrants are from Haiti, including some who have been waiting to request asylum in the U.S. for over a year.
Several migrants tell NBC 5 they fled extreme poverty, a lack of jobs and political unrest in Haiti and hope to reunite with family in states like Florida, New York and Massachusetts.
Title 42 is keeping them from seeking asylum in the U.S., for now.
WHAT ARE THE TITLE 42 PREPARATIONS IN TEXAS?
Across the Rio Grande, Texas law enforcement and the National Guard have lined the banks of the river as a show of force.
“Letting them know we don’t want them coming in illegally and if they’re seeking asylum or help to do it legally,” said Sgt. Erick Estrada, Texas DPS Laredo District spokesman.
"Operation Mirror" is underway as part of the larger "Operation Lone Star" — first launched by Gov. Greg Abbott in March 2021 — that aims to cut down on migrants attempting to cross illegally into the country.
After more than a year, and having spent more than $3 billion on the effort, it's unclear how effective the move has actually been in stemming incoming migrants. While Abbott, who is up for reelection this year and recently staved off a primary challenge, has pointed to thousands of arrests — typically on trespassing charges — and drug seizures, common figures used to measure the flow of illegal migrants continue to rise.
April saw a 22-year high in the number of encounters at the southern border, according to federal data: more than 234,000 undocumented migrants.
But the operation continues, as members of the military recently transported shipments of razor wire to the border in anticipation of a Title 42 decision, according to Estrada.
The hope is to deter migrants from rushing the river toward Texas, officials say.
“Even though it looks calm, on the bottom it’s way different,” Estrada said. “We’ve had some drownings before.”
TEXAS MAYOR'S PERSPECTIVE ON TITLE 42
Pete Saenz, mayor of Laredo, votes Democrat but considers himself an independent. He said now is not the time to let Title 42 lapse.
“No, Title 42 should not be lifted,” he said. “We don’t have another protective layer here and we are vulnerable.”
Saenz said he questions whether the federal government is really prepared to end the policy and face a potential flood of migrants along the border.
He suggests an executive order with changes to where migrants can and should seek asylum would help.
“There’s got to be another way and I’m proposing maybe it’s done remotely from their countries of origin or next to it, a safe zone.”
Saenz said about 73,000 undocumented migrants have been caught in Laredo since October, though most people are not asylum seekers but rather those wanting to evade the Border Patrol.
He wants to avoid a repeat of the situation that unfolded farther north in Del Rio last fall where thousands of Haitian migrants crossed the Rio Grande and huddled under an international bridge for weeks before being removed.
That surge, Saenz said pulled resources from other border communities to Del Rio, leaving them vulnerable to drug traffickers.
His message to the governor and president: “Secure the border. Period.”
HOW DRUG CARTELS INFLUENCE MIGRANT TRAVEL
Laredo registered 12,540 encounters at the border, fewer than cities like McAllen and Del Rio. The reason for this, authorities say, is that migrants typically avoid Nuevo Laredo out of fear of cartels that dominate the region.
The cartels, Estrada adds, operate differently in Nuevo Laredo than organized criminal groups in other border cities.
“Here is not: ‘OK, I’m going to decide to cross.’ You actually have to use their services,” he said. “If you were to cross illegally without permission, they actually also have people on this side that can cause trouble for them.”
DHS estimates there are 170,000 migrants in Mexican camps waiting to seek asylum in the U.S.
Authorities anticipate crossings at the border to increase to about 18,000 a day.