Border braces for new migrant surge after Title 42

Border braces for new migrant surge after Title 42

With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention set to announce the lifting of the Trump-era Title 42 health policy at any time, law enforcement and elected officials along the southern border tell The Post they are in the dark about what the plan will be to respond to an expected rush of illegal immigrants – or whether a plan even exists.

“There is no plan,” Don McLaughlin, mayor of Uvalde, Texas – a town of approximately 15,000 which sits roughly 60 miles from the Mexico frontier – asserted this week.

Title 42 has been in place since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, and allows border authorities to immediately expel migrants who attempt to cross into the US on public health grounds without allowing them a chance to claim asylum. The policy has been used more than 1.7 million times, according to official estimates.

Multiple outlets reported Wednesday that the Biden administration hopes to wind up the policy by May 23 following a CDC review. If and when that happens, officials are bracing for a potential influx of up to 170,000 people, with up to 13,000 unaccompanied children crossing the border in May alone. 

Joe Frank Martinez, the sheriff of Val Verde County, Texas, told The Post he suspects the long lead time before the policy’s purported end date is no accident.

“I’ve got a gut feeling that that’s one reason why they extended it, because they got no plan,” he said. “They just can’t do away with because they have no plan. What are we going to do next? Last year, we were calling it a crisis. This year, it will be a disaster. This is the calm before the storm.”

Officers discovered 46 immigrants and 2 unaccompanied children within the cab and trailer.
Uvalde Police Department
Migrants rest in a dormitory of the Good Samaritan shelter in Juarez, Mexico, Tuesday, March 29, 2022.
AP/Christian Chavez

Uvalde Mayor McLaughlin said he had spoken with members of Congress and federal officials to try to secure assistance for his city, but has so far been shut down.

“I told them on the phone yesterday, ‘You’re the 800-pound gorilla. If you want to bring these people in, if you want to send them somewhere, then you need to have buses lined up down here to take them somewhere.’ And they said, ‘Well, we can’t do that,’” he recalled.

“Well, you didn’t have a problem clearing 15,000 of them from underneath the Del Rio bridge when the publicity got too much for you,” he said, referring to the massive migrant encampment underneath the border city’s International Bridge that was broken up this past September after images of the cramped and filthy conditions surfaced. “They did it in three days.”

Without guidance or assistance from federal officials, McLaughlin says he has his own plan protect his city. 

“I’m going to take a playbook right out of Black Lives Matter, except I’m going to change it and say, ‘Border Lives Matter,’” McLaughlin vowed. “We’re going to block that Highway 90.”

“I hope it never comes to this, it’s not what I want to do, but if you’re going to start sending me 200 or 300 people a day, then I’m going to block Highway 90 from one side of town to the other and say ‘Sorry, you can’t come through today,’ and bring national attention to it,” the mayor added. “Will I probably get arrested? Probably, but I’m going to bring national attention to it if that’s what I have to do.”

A Customs and Border Protection agent
A Customs and Border Protection agent asks for documents to a Ukrainian family.
AFP via Getty Images
Asylum-seeking migrants
Asylum-seeking migrants cross the Rio Bravo river to turn themselves to request asylum in El Paso, Texas, U.S., as seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico March 30, 2022.
Migrants walk near the border wall after crossing the Rio Bravo river to turn themselves in to U.S Border Patrol agents.

If migrants do make it to Uvalde, McLaughlin said the current plan is to send them on buses to San Antonio, about two hours away — though as he put it, “I’d love to get them on a bus to Washington DC and let them see what we’re getting first hand.”

Even with Title 42 in place, McLaughlin said Uvalde has struggled with an influx of illegal immigrants. Most of the buses that pass through town are already filled with migrants coming from Eagle Pass and Del Rio, leaving those looking for a ride deeper into the US to wander the town.

“We act like we’re doing this great favor to these people, and they’re not even allowed to get a job,” said McLaughlin. “So we’re releasing millions of people into the United States and they’re not even allowed to get a job. So who’s going to take care of these people? How are they going to survive?”

Even Border Patrol agent Jon Anfinsen is in the dark about what to do. 

“We don’t have enough information on what those plans are … assuming they exist,” he told The Post. “We don’t even know what to tell [agents] what to expect. We’re already in a position where things are as bad as they have ever been. To think they’re going to get worse, it’s hard to quantify that.”

Anfinsen accused Customs and Border Protection of being reactive to the crisis rather than proactive and repeated that “not enough information” has been given out to Border Patrol agents, though he added that “there has been talk about setting up big tents” in the Rio Grande Valley, Laredo, Eagle Pass and El Paso. Such tents are usually meant to act as initial checkpoints where migrants are evaluated by medical staff and provide officials with basic information. 

“Normally they would walk up to a port of entry and ask for asylum,” said Anfinsen. “Customs has basically said, ‘The [Del Rio] bridge is closed. You can’t come this way.’ So they just turn around and cross the border and then the people left to deal with it is the Border Patrol. They [CBP] won’t help with this crisis. When Title 42 goes away, I’m not sure what’s going to happen with customs and will they open up bridges.”

Asylum-seeking migrants
Officials are preparing for 170,000 people, with up to 13,000 unaccompanied children at the border.
Mexican municipal police
Mexican municipal police tries to stop migrants and border activists who are protesting the U.S.-Mexico border policy. / Carlos A. Moreno

Anfinsen told The Post that it “won’t take long” after Title 42 is scrapped for migrants to start flowing in across the border. 

“It may take a few days for the word to get out when immigrants who make it to their final destination call home to say they made it,” the agent said.

“Once people start getting released, they will call home and let them know, ‘Hey, I got through.’ That’s when you will see the crowds.”

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