Haitian migrants stranded in front of Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral in Ciudad Juárez on Friday to seek help in entering the United States. (Blanca Carmona/La Verdad)
By Verónica Martínez/La Verdad

The decision of a federal judge that forced the United States to continue the immediate expulsion of migrants under Title 42 placed Ciudad Juárez on the cusp of a new humanitarian crisis, due to the daily increase in the migrant population on this border.

The flow of more than 100 expelled per day from U.S. territory under Title 42 and the growing arrival of migrants waiting to cross the border has the shelters close to being saturated. Hundreds of other migrants are in spaces that they rent on their own in hotels or homes, while others live in houses in abandoned conditions.

“I think that now it is going to be necessary for the government and government agencies to give an answer (soon) because for the moment we are somewhat overwhelmed,” said Rosa Mani, coordinator of the Somos Uno por Juárez shelter network, made up of 15 of the 23 humanitarian shelter spaces that operate in the city, mainly by civil and religious organizations.

Mexican authorities addressed the migration issue Friday morning during the meeting of the Coordination Table for the Construction of Peace, which is made up of representatives of the federal, state and local governments. They discussed strategies for a new spike in migration due to the possible suspension of Title 42, which the U.S. government had planned for Monday. That plan was blocked hours later by a U.S. federal judge from Louisiana.

Even with the continuation of Title 42, officials are concerned the massive concentration of migrants in this community will continue to increase due to the expulsion of people from the north and those who continue to arrive from the south.

Migrants stranded in the city are beginning to despair and seek to cross the border. This motivated nearly 300 people from Haiti to gather Friday in front of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the downtown area, to go to the Office of Human Mobility of the Diocese of Ciudad Juárez in search of information on Title 42.

“They are afraid that many people are staying here without being heard. The cathedral has been their home in many ways and they come to ask for help to see if we can register them (to cross), but we that’s not in our capacity,” said Cristina Coronado, the coordinator of the diocese office that provides humanitarian assistance as distribution of pantries, clothing and orientation for people who have just arrived.

Cristina Coronado, from the Office of Human Mobility of the Ciudad Juárez Catholic Diocese speaks before the migrants who gathered in front of the Cathedral on Friday. (Verónica Martínez/La Verdad)

“We came here because we know there is an organization that can help us cross into the United States. We don’t want to cross into the United States illegally,” said Félix, a migrant from Haiti who was waiting to be seen by the human mobility office.

Gerta, a Haitian woman, said it was the first time she went to the migrant assistance office despite having been in Ciudad Juárez for several weeks.

“I came looking for help to see if there are people to help enter (the United States) because I don’t want deportation. I have too much time doing this for them to push us back,” she said.

Many of the people who showed up at the cathedral have been in Ciudad Juárez for several weeks, and some even months, Coronado said. They came to the office driven by rumors of possible exceptions to Title 42 that have been granted and through which some migrants have been able to cross into the United States.

Migrants in front of Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral in Juárez ask for help to cross into the United States on Friday. (Blanca Carmona/La Verdad)

Title 42 is a public health law that the Trump administration invoked in March 2020, arguing that it was necessary to expel migrants at the border to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The Biden administration continued the policy, but announced last month that it would end Title 42 on May 23. The Louisiana judge on Friday ordered the government to continue enforcing Title 42. 

This order prevents migrants from submitting humanitarian asylum applications because when they cross the border they are immediately expelled by immigration authorities.

Limited capacity and resources in shelters

In the busy and noisy kitchen of the Solus Christus shelter, Pastor Rodolfo Barraza receives a phone call while chatting with the newly arrived migrants. The person on the other end of the line asks if the shelter can take in his three daughters. 

“Look, you speak to me at the right time. I would have told you that there is no more space but today they just confirmed that tomorrow just three people will leave,” Barraza told the caller. “I would only need to know when they would arrive and I would ask you to come soon to reserve the place for them.”

The shelter has been at capacity for almost two weeks with a flow that “goes in and out,” Barraza said, explaining that new people arrive daily looking for accommodation. At the same time, the reception space has been relieved with the departure of people who manage to cross through with exceptions to Title 42.

Under Title 42, Mexicans are returned from El Paso to Juárez on the Santa Fe Bridge by U.S. Customs and Border Protection on March 11, 2021. (Omar Ornelas/El Paso Times)

The Solus Christus shelter hasn’t been this full since 2019, Barraza said. With 50 bunks, Barraza says they always try to keep the shelter at 90 percent capacity in case they have to accommodate a group of people who arrive unexpectedly.

“I don’t know if this repeal of Title 42 prompted people to come,” Barraza said. “But here at the door of the shelter, I get tired of telling people that the border is not open.”

The migratory flow comes both from the south, with people from Central American countries and from the Mexican states of Guerrero and Michoacán, as well as from the north with people who have been returned to Mexico from the United States under various immigration policies.

This arrival of migrants comes up against limited spaces in shelters and with organizations overwhelmed by the current demand for humanitarian attention.

Giving attention to different populations and with different capacities, most of the shelters report that they are already close to being saturated, said Rosa Mani, from the Somos Uno por Juárez shelter network.

Mani explained that accepting people in shelters goes beyond having space and bunks to sleep, but also includes food and health resources to provide decent accommodation and care.

The Office of Human Mobility of the Catholic Diocese of Ciudad Juárez has also seen a significant increase in the demand for services for people who have just arrived at the border. On average, they are receiving about 10 families a day in addition to the attention they give to between 40 and 50 families who have already been in Ciudad Juárez for months.

The new arrivals seek accommodation and food, including the delivery of breast milk, diapers and clothing.

Despite the fact that “much is up in the air” regarding immigration policy, Coronado said the diocese will continue to provide humanitarian assistance, orientation, and clothing and food to the population on the move, especially to the Haitian population, which continues to arrive in large numbers.

“Before (May) 23 we were all trying to prepare because if (Title 42) is lifted, we didn’t know exactly what the answer would be,” Coronado said. “What I know is that there is a very high flow. There are a lot of people arriving, there are a lot of people”.

Crossing despite Title 42

Even though U.S. Customs and Border Protection has emphasized that the public health order is still in force, humanitarian groups in Ciudad Juárez have reported the departure of migrants who managed to enter the United States with exceptions to the public health order.

“In accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, (the Department of Homeland Security continues to approve exceptions to Title 42 on a case-by-case basis for particularly vulnerable individuals of all nationalities for humanitarian reasons,” CBP officials said in a statement.

Enrique Valenzuela, the coordinator of the State Population Council (COESPO), said CBP has granted Title 42 exceptions to about 30 people per day over the past week, saying the priority has been given to “exceptional cases.”

Neither U.S. or Mexican authorities elaborated on the criteria for exceptions to Title 42.

Title 42 remains in effect

Title 42 has been widely criticized by human rights advocates for violating international refugee law. Since its implementation in March 2020, CBP has reported nearly 1.8 million encounters with migrants that have resulted in removals under Title 42.

It is difficult to determine the total number of people expelled to Mexico under this order since many of the expulsions involve people who attempted multiple crossings. CBP estimates that 28 percent of their encounters with migrants have involved people who had already attempted to cross at least once. 

In the El Paso sector, a total of 14,875 encounters were reported in the month of April that resulted in expulsions under the Title 42 public health law, and 14,963 under Title 8, the U.S. immigration enforcement law.

A migrant runs around the end of the border wall west of the Paso del Norte Bridge after crossing the Rio Grande from Juárez to El Paso on May 2. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

The immigration policy continues to return hundreds of people daily, leaving thousands of people stranded in Ciudad Juárez. This brought challenges for civil society and humanitarian groups in Ciudad Juárez, said Blanca Navarrete, director of Integral Human Rights in Action.

The future of Title 42 has caused uncertainty among migrants who continue to arrive at the northern border, and among the network of shelters, local and international civil organizations, and government agencies that provide care to people in mobility.

“I think many people are going to be desperately looking everywhere hoping to be given a chance to enter,” Coronado said of the consequences that could occur in the city in the coming days in terms of immigration.

Valenzuela mentioned that even with the expected termination of Title 42, this did not imply that the United States would allow entry to all kinds of people who wanted to apply for asylum. With the suspension of the order being blocked, immediate expulsions will continue to take place at this border.

“It is necessary for anyone who is yet to make the trip or is already on the move to wait for official information. Don’t be fooled by traffickers and wait for the best time to make the trip or approach the border,” Valenzuela said.

This story was produced as part of the Puente News Collaborative, a binational partnership of news organizations in Ciudad Juárez and El Paso.