Migrants cross the Rio Grande from Juárez into El Paso toward the border wall near Ascarate Park on Wednesday. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Large groups of migrants on Wednesday afternoon began crossing the Rio Grande from Juárez into El Paso toward the border wall near Ascarate Park, where U.S. Border Patrol agents expelled many of them back to Mexico.

“Me muero por cruzar,” Nikole, a Venezuelan migrant, said in Spanish as she and others walked over a narrow section of the river. “I’m dying to cross.” 

Hundreds of migrants made their way along the river from downtown Juárez to the area near Ascarate Park – roughly six miles – where concertina wire put up by Texas National Guard troops along the border under Operation Lone Star ends.

The Border Patrol deployed additional agents to the area, where migrants were crossing in groups of about 20 to 30 at a time, El Paso sector Acting Assistant Chief Patrol Agent Valeria Morales told El Paso Matters. More than 100 migrants had crossed the river shortly before 5 p.m., and the number of migrants arriving at the area was quickly growing, she added.

By late evening, Border Patrol agents had encountered up to 1,000 migrants who surrendered themselves to them at the border gate.

Morales said most of those crossing are families, the majority from Venezuela. She said the agency is processing them under Title 42 or Title 8. Title 42 is the health policy that allows border enforcement agencies to quickly expel many migrants to Mexico; while Title 8 requires determination of whether migrants have a legal right to seek asylum or other protection from deportation.

Families generally have been excepted from Title 42 expulsions during the Biden administration.

“We are receiving information that they’re being told or believe they are being deported in Mexico and are willing to take their chances,” Morales said.

Migrants cross the Rio Grande from Juárez into El Paso toward the border wall near Ascarate Park on Wednesday. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

The crossings come after a fire broke out on Monday at a Mexican government-run migrant detention center in Juárez, killing 40 migrants and injuring 28 others. Protests over the deaths continue outside the Mexican National Institute of Migration, which sits at the foot of the Stanton Street international bridge connecting Juárez and El Paso.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has said the detained migrants set mattresses on fire to protest that they were going to be deported – a statement that migrants and human rights organizations dispute. A video circulating on social media from inside the detention center shows at least one migrant trying to kick open a wrought iron door as the fire breaks out, while two uniformed officials in an open area on the opposite side leave the center.

Migrants in Juárez have expressed fear for their safety in the border city that has been overwhelmed with more than 20,000 migrants from Central and South America, as well as other parts of Mexico, arriving there in hopes of requesting asylum in El Paso. 

Tensions between migrants there and law enforcement agents in Juárez – from municipal police to Mexican immigration officers and the Mexican National Guard – have been boiling over for months. Mexican immigration officers raided a hotel and a church area where migrants had been staying, and the Juárez mayor recently said he planned to crack down on migrants on the streets.

Earlier this month, hundreds of mostly Venezuelan migrants broke through barriers at the Mexican side of the Paso del Norte Bridge and walked to the U.S. side after hearing false rumors that they’d be allowed to request asylum. U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents put up barriers and blocked them from entering the United States. The bridge was closed for several hours before the migrants retreated back to Mexico.

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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,...

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El Paso native Cindy Ramirez has spent most of her career in journalism, with some stints in public and media relations and military reporting. She's covered everything from education to local government...