Fear and confusion, but not chaos, along the southern border after Title 42 ends
After days of anticipation, there was a relative sense of calm, if also uncertainty, in the minutes and hours that followed the expiration of Title 42.
The pandemic-era policy severely limited immigration to the U.S., nearly halting the processing of asylum applications for over three years.
As the policy was formally lifted on Thursday at 11:59 p.m. ET, security officials were bracing for an unprecedented influx of migrants along the southern U.S. border — some estimates suggested as many as 150,000 migrants might arrive in the hopes of crossing over.
Instead, the number of border crossings remained steady, according to Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Blas Nuñez-Neto.
"Overnight, we saw similar patterns to what we've seen over the past several days," he told reporters during a midday briefing call on Friday. "We continue to encounter high levels of non-citizens at the border but we did not see a substantial increase overnight or an influx at midnight."
Though the anticipation may have been overblown, Friday still marked the start of a new era of immigration — a change that may take months to come into clearer focus.
NPR and member station reporters spent Friday observing the start of that change from the U.S.-Mexico border, across the country and inside the halls of power. Here's some of what they saw:
Migrants, afraid and confused, weighed whether to cross
For migrants along the Juárez–El Paso border, there was an understanding that Title 42 had lifted, but confusion remained about what that would mean for the future.
Alejandra Gonzalez fled Venezuela with her husband and stepson. She told NPR that they tried to turn themselves into border patrol in El Paso before the policy ended. But, after waiting out in the hot sun for days, she said, they never got the chance.
Now, they're back in Ciudad Juárez — sleeping in a tent on the street and afraid to try crossing again.
"If we turned ourselves in, we might be deported or detained or jailed," Gonzalez said in Spanish. "And I feel a lot of doubt and fear."
In the early morning hours of Friday, Raquel Garrido, 23, stood on the banks of the Rio Grande river in Matamoros, assessing whether to wade through the waters with her 10-month-old baby.
Dozens of other migrants living in an encampment in Matamoros decided to swim across the Rio Grande to enter the U.S..
But after making the long journey from Venezuela, Garrido worried about her fate once she crossed. Troops from the Texas National Guard and Operation Lone Star erected a barbed wire fence on the U.S. side.
"I don't know whether to go through that river," she said. "It's not so much the river, it's the barbed wire."
Garrido ultimately decided to stay in Mexico. The next day, immigration officials told Texas Public Radio that two people had almost drowned while trying to cross into Brownsville, Texas, overnight.
Later in the day, officials at the Matamoros-Brownsville crossing began allowing 50 people per day to cross legally and seek asylum.
The Biden administration stopped the practice, known as metering, last year because it incentivizes more people to cross illegally between international bridges. U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not immediately respond to TPR's questions about whether the policy has returned or is being implemented elsewhere along the border.
On Friday, Texas Public Radio saw 40 adults and 10 children line up at the Gateway International Bridge while thousands of other people weighed whether they should wait for their spot or cross illegally.
Churches, shelters and cities across the country prepared to see more migrants
On the other side of the border, nonprofit groups and city officials were preparing for a massive surge in migrant arrivals.
Oak Lawn United Methodist Church, in Dallas, told NPR member station KERA that it was prepared to receive five times more migrants after Title 42 expired.
One temporary shelter in Houston, run by the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, said that only about 15% of the 3,000 migrants it has served since October chose to remain in Houston. The rest took flights to cities like Chicago and New York.
New York City was also bracing for an influx of migrants.
On Thursday, several dozen migrants in the city were put on a bus to get to a hotel in Orange County, N.Y., as part of a plan from Mayor Eric Adams to stem the overcrowding of shelters.
Adams sent the bus despite the vociferous objections from officials in Orange and Rockland counties, reported Gothamist.
Two other counties in New York state, Broome and Schulyer, joined Orange and Rockland officials "in declaring a state of emergency and corresponding executive order meant to bar hotels, motels and short-term rental establishments from contracting with New York City to house asylum seekers."
DHS enacted new asylum rules; lawsuits challenged those rules
For now, people who enter the U.S. illegally could be banned from returning for at least five years, and repeat offenders could face prosecution. And many migrants at the southern border will need to show they were first turned down by a country they crossed into before asking the U.S. for asylum.
Those asylum restrictions, announced on Wednesday, have proved controversial. Immigration advocacy groups, including the ACLU, filed a lawsuit to stop them just moments after they took effect, comparing them to Trump administration efforts that courts have blocked in the past.
Separately, a federal judge in Florida ruled late Thursday that migrants could not be released from custody without a court date. U.S. Representative Veronica Escobar said she feared the ruling would lead to migrants dying in detention.
"We saw severe overcrowding during the Trump administration and that severe overcrowding caused lost lives," Escobar said during a press call with reporters Friday. "Children died in custody during the Trump administration, they died of flu-like infections and not being treated ... but it came from severe overcrowding."
In a statement, Customs and Border Protection said it would comply with the order but called the ruling "harmful" and said it would lead to "unsafe overcrowding."
Nuñez-Neto, the senior immigration official at Homeland Security, said it's ultimately up to Congress to enact immigration reform. He said the Biden administration has been reaching out to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, asking them to come together to find a bipartisan solution.
"The bottom line is we are seeing these surges of migration now for going on 20 years under presidents of both political parties," Nuñez-Neto said. "And so, at the end of the day, we are clear-eyed that there is no lasting solution here that does not involve the U.S. Congress stepping up."
Julian Aguilar, Ana Campbell, Stella M. Chavez, Emily Alfin Johnson, Vanessa Romo, Joel Rose and Sean Saldana all contributed reporting from across the NPR network.
This story was written with reporting that initially appeared in our live blog.
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