CIUDAD JUÁREZ — About 300 migrants who had been camped along the Rio Grande surged into El Paso Tuesday night, apparently driven by confusion over the status of a controversial U.S. policy that allows for the quick expulsion of people from Venezuela and other countries.

Alfonso, an 18-year-old who traveled from Venezuela with his girlfriend and her family, emerged from a tent and shivered in a t-shirt as he gazed across the river.

“There are so many people crossing,” he said Friday afternoon. “Should we try it?” It wasn’t clear later Wednesday if Alfonso attempted to cross

Migrants who have heard that a federal judge blocked Title 42 cross the Rio Grande to El Paso on Wednesday, despite a Department of Homeland Security announcement that no policy changes have been made. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

U.S. immigration officials could not be immediately reached for comment about the status of the large group that crossed into El Paso Wednesday night. But if they are from Venezuela, Mexico or northern Central American countries, they could be quickly expelled to Mexico.

A federal judge in Washington on Tuesday struck down the U.S. of Title 42, a public health law that the United States has been using since 2020 to quickly expel migrants who crossed the border without documents that would allow them to be admitted. But the judge, Emmet Sullivan, agreed on Wednesday to a Biden administration request to stay his ruling until Dec. 21 so the government could prepare for the end of Title 42.

Brothers from Venezuela play with a flag at the migrant camp on the Juárez side of the Rio Grande on Wednesday. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

The Department of Homeland Security issued a statement Wednesday stressing that the expulsion program remained in effect.

“People should not listen to the lies by smugglers who will take advantage of vulnerable migrants, putting lives at risk. The border is closed, and we will continue to fully enforce our immigration laws at the border,” the statement said.

Migrants who heard that a federal judge blocked Title 42 cross the Rio Grande to El Paso on Wednesday, even though the judge’s ruling is on hold for several weeks. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

On Wednesday, as in past weeks, a steady stream of migrants crossed the river to turn themselves in to Border Patrol agents at the temporary processing center on the El Paso bank of the river. Some of them were migrants who were newly arrived to Juárez. But in the camp set up across from the processing center, individuals and families who have been waiting for an opportunity started to wonder if this was their chance.

David, a Venezuelan man who first crossed the border on Oct. 12 and was immediately expelled even though he had a relative to sponsor him in Dallas, has camped in Juárez for over a month now. His wife and children had left Venezuela ahead of him and made it across the border and then to Atlanta in August.

David, a Venezuelan migrant, reads a text message from his son in Atlanta on Oct. 26, his son’s birthday. David had hoped to join his family in time to celebrate the birthday together. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

David took the news of the Title 42 decision with cautious optimism. He did not plan to make any moves yet, he said on Tuesday evening. Twenty-four hours later, as he saw hundreds of his compatriots abandon the camp and make their way across the rocks lined up to form a bridge in the river bed, he changed his mind.

“Everyone is turning themselves in, the camp is emptying out,” he said in a voice message to a journalist. “I’m going to turn myself in right now.”

Migrants who left the tent city on the Juárez bank of the Rio Grande to turn themselves in to Border Patrol agents are seated with mylar blankets while they await processing on Wednesday. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

The El Paso-Ciudad Juárez region saw a huge increase of migrants from Venezuela in the late summer and early fall, often overwhelming government and non-governmental resources to care for them.

Title 42 generally had not been used to expel Venezuelan migrants because their home country refused to accept their return and Mexico also balked at receiving them. But the U.S. and Mexican governments reached an agreement on Oct. 12 that allowed for the expulsion of thousands of Venezuelans.

Corrie Boudreaux is a lecturer in the Department of Communication at UTEP and a freelance photojournalist in the El Paso-Ciudad Juárez region. She specializes in photography as a tool to explore insecurity,...