May 17, 2023 745 PM
PRESIDIO COUNTY — As the clock struck midnight last Thursday, the controversial immigration policy Title 42 was lifted. Officials and media organizations had warned of a “major influx” of migrants at ports of entry — but in the past week crossings along the U.S.-Mexico border have dropped.
Title 42 authorized the federal government to “immediately expel” people apprehended for crossing the border illegally and effectively shut down the asylum-seeking process. Since the implementation of the policy by the Trump policy — as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic — numbers of illegal crossings have ballooned. In 2023, over 244,000 migrants were “expelled” under the policy.
U.S. immigration policy is now ruled by Title 8. Title 8 requires a formal deportation process and requires enhanced criminal penalties for unlawful entry into the United States — the inflated number of “expelled” migrants under Title 42 is in part because migrants could attempt to cross multiple times without legal consequences if not found to have committed other immigration-related crimes like smuggling.
So far, the port of entry in Presidio has been quiet. The only change locals have noticed is that the bridge has been closed randomly for short periods of time in order for Customs officials to practice opening and closing the bridge in case of a surge of migrants.
The drills have been ongoing sporadically at ports of entry for years, but have been a more frequent occurrence since Thursday. CBP spokesperson Roger Maier said that the Presidio Port of Entry was running drills of an average of around 12 minutes — users on Facebook bridge wait time groups in Presidio and El Paso reported 20-30 minute delays.
The agency insisted that — though the drills would not be announced ahead of time — “legitimate trade and travel” would not be hindered. “As the men and women of CBP conduct these drills, it is important for the traveling public to be aware of these operations and understand that they will be done quickly,” reads a Customs and Border Protection press release.
El Heraldo de Chihuahua reported that authorities on the Mexican side would not be running similar drills, but would work with other agencies to keep bridge-crossers informed.
In Marfa, Father Michael Wallens of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church has been leading a coalition of law enforcement, religious leaders and citizen volunteers to welcome asylum seekers to the Big Bend and help connect them with resources. Their mission has effectively been on hold since Title 42 was enacted. “It’s been frustrating since we’ve been getting geared up every time Title 42 was going to drop,” he explained, citing the numerous times the policy was set to expire but was delayed by the courts.
He had been advised by local immigration officials that it might take a few weeks for Presidio County to see an influx of migrants at the port of entry — and if the influx doesn’t arrive by then, it could be delayed until the end of the hottest summer months.
Presidio could become a destination for migrants, given that the port is equipped to process asylum seekers in a matter of hours, rather than the wait times of a week or more at busier ports of entry. “Word could get out like it got out before,” he said, referring to a small group of migrants from Guatemala who arrived in Ojinaga in 2019. “We are expecting numbers to rise here.”
For now, the number is zero. Wallens said that people in the community were still waiting with open arms. “More people have opened up their homes,” he said. “We’ve gotten more volunteers who are willing to greet people and try to get them to where they want to go.”