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Border communities wait to see if Title 42 restrictions will be lifted soon

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Communities across the southern border are on edge today, waiting to find out what will happen to pandemic restrictions known as Title 42. Those restrictions were set to end earlier this morning after a federal judge found them unlawful, but the Supreme Court paused that ruling. Now, the governor of Texas has deployed the Texas National Guard to El Paso, a city that's seen an influx of migrants in recent weeks. NPR's Joel Rose is there. Joel, what's it looking like at the border?

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Yeah, Texas National Guard troops have deployed to the banks of the Rio Grande between El Paso and Juarez, Mexico, putting up razor wire and essentially cutting off one of the busiest crossing points for migrants trying to turn themselves in to Border Patrol to seek asylum. Immigrant advocates argue that it's illegal for the state to do that, but Texas Governor Greg Abbott is pushing ahead. In a letter published yesterday, he blamed the Biden administration for an influx of migrants at the border, calling it, quote, "a catastrophe of your own making." All of this is happening as the administration is urging the Supreme Court to let the Title 42 restrictions end. The Justice Department acknowledged in its brief yesterday that, yes, lifting those restrictions will likely lead to a temporary increase in unlawful border crossings. But the Justice Department argues it's time for the, quote, "obsolete" policy to go because it's no longer needed to protect public health.

MARTÍNEZ: The city of El Paso - that's where you're at, Joel - has already declared a state of emergency. What's the situation there?

ROSE: Yeah, the city has been dealing with this influx of migrants over the past few weeks, and the strain is showing. Shelters are at capacity. Hundreds of migrants have ended up sleeping on the streets in downtown. Many are even sleeping at the small airport. That's where I met Claudia Anielka Albarado from Nicaragua and her 8-year-old daughter, Sofia, who was playing with a set of wooden blocks.

SOFIA: (Speaking Spanish).

ROSE: Sofia's mother, Claudia Albarado, says she came from Nicaragua with her husband and two children to get away from political instability and violence. They've been sleeping on the floor in the airport for several days, but they don't seem that upset about it. They say volunteers at the airport have given them food and even some toys for Sofia. Mostly, they seem grateful to have a safe place to be after traveling through Mexico.

MARTÍNEZ: Where does the family hope to get to?

ROSE: They're trying to get to North Carolina, where they have family.

CLAUDIA ANIELKA ALBARADO: (Speaking Spanish).

ROSE: "The trip was successful, thank God," Albarado says. "But the journey was very hard." And it is not over. The family is trying to get enough money from friends back home to buy plane tickets, but those tickets are expensive. This is not a big airport. It's already crowded with holiday travelers. That is why local officials would like to get some of these migrants out to different cities that have bigger airports and, you know, better transportation options.

MARTÍNEZ: And all this, Joel, with Title 42, I mean, technically still in place. What are immigration authorities doing to prepare if it does wind up lifting?

ROSE: The city of El Paso is still preparing as if that will happen. It's trying to find shelter space for up to 10,000 migrants. As many as 2,500 a day were arriving here last week. Immigration authorities say that is now dropping back to about 1,500 a day. Homeland security officials say they've moved about 10,000 migrants out of El Paso in recent days, either by expelling them to Mexico or by moving them to other parts of the border. But the mayor of El Paso said as many as 20,000 migrants could be waiting just across the river in Juarez, Mexico. So it feels like everything could change very quickly if Title 42 is lifted.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. That's NPR's Joel Rose in El Paso, Texas. Joel, thanks.

ROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.