JUAREZ, Mexico — Just 15 minutes from El Paso, Texas, the largest immigrant shelter in this city of 1.5 million has become a way station for throngs of would-be border crossers — all anxious to see if Title 42 will be lifted on Monday, as the Biden administration intends.
“Our city has become a waiting room,” Yvonne Lopez De Lara, the human rights coordinator at Casa del Migrante, told The Post on Thursday.
The shelter is currently jammed to its capacity of 400 people. About half of them, according to Lopez De Lara, will base their decision about trying to enter the US on whether a Louisiana federal judge keeps the health authority in place or gives the White House the go-ahead to lift it.
“We are pretty panicked about Title 42 ending,” said Lopez De Lara. “The shelter chapel is now a dormitory. So is the area we used to use for schooling for the children. We don’t have space for more people.”
Title 42 has been in place since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and has been used to expel about 1.7 million immigrants from the US without hearing their asylum claims, according to federal government estimates.
US District Judge Robert Summerhays, appointed by Donald Trump, is expected to rule at any time on whether the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention order lifting Title 42 is lawful. Arrayed against the Biden White House are 24 Republican state attorneys general who want Title 42 kept in place, at least temporarily.
Whenever the order ends, everyone expects there will be a tidal wave of immigrants — some already waiting in Mexico — who will try to enter the US.
Casa del Migrante used to be one of only two shelters in Juarez, but that number has grown to nearly 40 in recent years as more and more immigrants have arrived.
City officials estimate there are between 10,000 and 15,000 migrants currently in Juarez — some in shelters and some on the streets. Many of them are waiting to see what happens with Title 42.
A Honduran man who asked to be identified as “Junior” is among them. He arrived in Juarez a month ago, accompanied by his wife and their two sons, ages 8 and 3.
“We can’t risk crossing [the border] with the little ones,” Junior told The Post on Thursday. “We want to enter legally. Being illegal [means] a lack of respect. We want to ask for asylum.”
“We heard they’re opening the border,” he added.
When asked if the shelter would ever turn away immigrants, Lopez De Lara recalled that the facility once housed over 1,000 people who arrived as part of a migrant caravan.
“We have always made it work,” she said. “We don’t really have the funds to operate now, but we survive on donations of the community. We hope that will continue to be the case.”
Shelters on the Mexican side of the border aren’t the only ones trying to make an impossible situation work. The network of shelters in El Paso, Texas is also operating at capacity most days. Sunday, about 100 asylum-seeking immigrants were released onto the streets of downtown El Paso after non-profit shelters and Border Patrol facilities became overwhelmed.
The City and County of El Paso are both declaring states of emergency over immigration and the immigration surge. Most immigrants who leave the Juarez shelters will eventually seek shelter in El Paso for at least a day or two before they leave the border and head for cities in the interior of the United States.
The disaster declarations will allow the local government to ask for state and federal funds to pay for expenses related to the influx, including establishing a temporary shelter jointly run by the city and county.