CIUDAD JUÁREZ, Mexico (OSV News) — The cathedral in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juárez previously served up to 1,000 meals daily to migrants who were unable to cross into the United States or were sent back to Mexico under a pandemic-era provision known as Title 42.
But in the two weeks leading up to the removal of Title 42 May 11, the Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral provided barely 200 meals daily. Cristina Coronado, director of the “Cathedral Project,” attributed the decline to migrants crossing the border ahead of Title 42’s end. Many migrants were waiting in a camp on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande, hoping Border Patrol agents would allow some of them through a gate in the wall between the two countries.
“The few that arrive, the new ones, always come looking for information,” Coronado told OSV News. “But most of the people are going to the camp or to the gate to turn themselves in.”
Title 42 was implemented in March 2020 with the coronavirus pandemic, allowing the U.S. to expel noncitizens back to Mexico or their countries of origin. The policy has been applied more than 2.7 million times, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, though many of the cases involved individuals entering the United States and being expelled on multiple occasions.
The policy remained in place long after the border opened to commercial and tourist traffic, and effectively prevented many migrants from making asylum claims.
Catholics working with migrants welcomed the end of Title 42, saying it had prevented many migrants from applying for asylum and, in many cases, forced people back to dangerous Mexican border towns where they were extorted and kidnapped by police and drug cartels. But they also expressed misgivings about what might replace it.
“This has been overdue by a couple of years. I don’t think there was any proof that migrants were bringing COVID-19 with them,” Scalabrinian Father Pat Murphy, director of a migrant shelter in Tijuana, told OSV News.
“Title 42 was never sufficiently justified to remain in place for so long. It was always used as a pretext for closing the border and blocking asylum,” said Gia Del Pino, communications director of the Kino Border Initiative, a binational Jesuit project serving migrants in Sonora, Arizona, and the Mexican state of Sonora. “There’s a lot of reckoning, looking back at the damage of the past three years.”
What was to follow Title 42 remained unclear in the weeks leading up to May 11, though migrants have crossed the border in large numbers in anticipation of the end of the policy.
Rumors have been rife in cities such as Ciudad Juárez as messages sent through WhatsApp and other services spread false information, sparking moves toward the border, according to advocates for migrants. U.S. border officials detained more than 10,000 people May 9, according to media reports.
On May 10, the U.S. government unveiled plans for restricting access to asylum after Title 42 is lifted. The new rules require migrants to apply for appointments online through an application or to request protection in one of the countries they passed through prior to reaching the United States, according to The Associated Press.
The United States also plans to open migrant processing hubs in the Western Hemisphere, in addition to centers already announced for Guatemala and Colombia.
“It is a major blow to U.S. commitment to asylum, an unforced error by a Democratic administration that will be hard to repair, and will result in pain and death,” Dylan Corbett, executive director of the Hope Border Institute in El Paso, tweeted May 10.
Mexico and the United States also reached an agreement, in which Mexico will receive non-Mexican migrants expelled from the United States.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has said Mexico “respects” the rights of migrants. But sources working with migrants say the federal government routinely reaches deals with the United States to step up migration enforcement and invests little in assisting the migrants returned to dangerous border cities, where drug cartels kidnap and extort migrants.
“He bases (his comments) on Mexico being a free and friendly country, but it doesn’t do anything to help these migrants he lets in,” Scalabrinian Father Julio López, director of the Mexican bishops’ migrant ministry, said of the Mexican government.
A March 27 fire in the Ciudad Juárez migration detention center claimed the lives of 40 migrants, prompting the government to close the facility. Father López told OSV News that the flow of migrants through Mexico had been growing in early 2023, but after the Ciudad Juárez fire “it’s moving more quickly toward the northern border,” as the National Immigration Institute has promptly processed documents for migrants without the proper papers.
The U.S. government has announced an increase in the number of spaces available for migrants to make appointments via what’s known as the CBP One mobile application. Shelter operators report crushing demand for limited spaces, however, forcing migrants to wait for scarce appointments to enter the United States.
“It’s never worked as it should. It didn’t work as they said it would work,” Ramón Domínguez, a pastor operating the Oasis del Migrante shelter in Ciudad Juárez, told OSV News. “The application created a lot of hopes and illusions.”
Venezuelan migrant Juan Ángel Pabón, 52, tries to snag an appointment every morning at 9 a.m. local time from a tent he has pitched in front of the now-closed migrant detention center in Ciudad Juárez. His wife obtained an appointment for the family two months ago, but U.S. officials only allowed her to cross — forcing Pabón and their two daughters to remain in Mexico and trying their luck with the app.
“This is the damage it does,” he told OSV News. “It even separates families.”