Migrants wait for chance to enter U.S. after end of Title 42

Still, the full impact of the policy change remained to be seen after the changes, Irene Valenzuela, the executive director of the county of El Paso’s Community Services Department, told NBC News on Thursday. 

“I think Friday morning will be the true test,” she said.

Valenzuela said what has been most concerning to officials is “the unknown, not knowing the exact number that are still waiting to come.”

Title 8 allows more people to seek asylum, which could slow down processing at border facilities, but also includes a process to quickly send people back across the border called “expedited removal.”

Title 8 will also allow for punishments including a potential 5-year bar and criminal prosecution for those who repeatedly attempt to enter the U.S. illegally. Title 42 had suspended those penalties, which led to an increase in the number of people who repeatedly crossed the border after they had been expelled.

At the same time, the U.S. finalized on Wednesday new asylum restrictions so that migrants will be ineligible for asylum, with some exceptions, unless they use existing legal processes, present at a port of entry using the online CBP One app, or applied and were rejected for asylum in a third country through which they traveled.  

El Paso County has prepared for a potential increase of thousands of migrants coming into the city after Title 42 lifts, Valenzuela said.

“The systems are in place to be able to prepare for migrants to come into our community,” she said. “Any system can break if we get an extreme amount of volume coming in that we were not anticipating.”

“We’re as prepared as we can be. And we’ll see how all these new rules and policies will impact that,” she said.

Starting Friday, the county’s Migrant Support Services Center will be able to process 800 people per day, up from the current 650, Valenzuela said. Migrants arrive at the center after being processed by immigration authorities with the goal of making travel arrangements to continue on their journeys. Since October, the services center has processed some 34,000 people.

Once they are processed, migrants are able to leave El Paso and head to their next destinations, after purchasing their own bus and plane tickets first. Many are seeking to leave El Paso and join loved ones in other states, or head to the city where their court cases will play out.

A migrant is patted down by Border Patrol agents at Gate 42 early on Friday.Adria Malcolm for NBC News

Valenzuela said the hope is that scaling up to 800 people a day or possibly more if needed could help ease the pressure on NGOs who shelter migrants. In recent weeks up to 3,300 migrants were staying in the area outside a local church and homeless shelter because shelter services were at capacity.

In the hours before Title 42 was lifted, migrants in Juarez, Mexico, waited sometimes for days along the border wall for a chance to be allowed inside the U.S. 

“Tonight is the decision for many of our Venezuelan brothers and many of our companions from other countries that are here struggling,” Jesús Miguel Roera Mendoza, 26, said. Roera Mendoza has been waiting about 10 days to be processed along the border wall. On Thursday he was making a more than two-hour round trip to get food and cleansing wipes.

“We have our hearts in our hands,” he said, at times getting emotional, saying that being deported back to Venezuela would be “fatal.”

He added: “We want to do things right … we want to come in legally.”

Damià Bonmatí, Noticias Telemundo Investiga contributed.

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