SAN DIEGO — From the Rio Grande Valley in Texas to San Diego and Tijuana, many migrants gathered along some sections of the U.S.-Mexico border. They questioned when or whether they would cross into the United States to seek asylum once pandemic-related restrictions known as Title 42 ended.
Some migrants who had traveled from Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, and Central America feared it could be harder for them to stay on U.S. soil with the restrictions lifted.
Here are some of the stories from along the 1,950-mile (3,140-kilometer) international boundary:
Aylin Guevara, 45, hurried her steps as she walked toward the border through the scorching desert of Ciudad Juarez.
She was accompanied by her two children, ages 16 and 5, and her husband. After receiving death threats, the family fled their coastal city in Colombia and hoped to seek refuge in the U.S.
After spending the previous night in a hotel, they were eager to get to the border “to get in and go with the help of God and baby Jesus,” Guevara said.
But when they arrived just hours before the end of Title 42, a U.S. immigration officer said they could not pass.
“Not anymore, it’s over,” he told them in a firm voice, instructing them to go to bridges 10 miles (16 kilometers) to their left or right.
Jose Manuel Bueno was among the last people sent back to Ciudad Juarez late Thursday under Title 42.
The 28-year-old Venezuelan said he didn't know the exact whereabouts of his pregnant wife and three children, who were in custody in the U.S. Bueno said he was earlier advised to use a special app U.S. border officials created for people to request asylum. Still, he decided crossing the border would be better and turning himself in.
“They didn’t have to split my family,” Bueno insisted. “I have my children’s birth certificates.”
Bueno set up camp for the night next to a bridge with about a dozen other men after they charged their cell phones from a connection in the street.
“It’s the safest place now,” he said.
Diana Rodas, an elementary school teacher from Colombia, spent the night shivering with her two daughters, ages 7 and 13, as they slept on the ground between two towering border walls dividing San Diego from Tijuana. The girls cried through the night.
At about 2 a.m. Friday, U.S. agents took away between 15 and 20 families with children under age two who had been among the hundreds sleeping under plastic tarps and blankets.
“We never expected all this,” said Rodas, who fled her homeland after her life was threatened. She feared deportation but wanted to stay optimistic. "Hope is the last thing that goes.”
The hundreds of migrants, mostly families, sat in two dozen rows between the border walls while Border Patrol agents walked by and decided who would be processed.
When some were selected, those left behind cheered.
One woman yelled “Suerte!” or “Good luck!” as those chosen were loaded into a Border Patrol van.
Gloria Inigo of Peru hoped she, her husband, and their daughters, ages 5 and 8, would be next. They crossed the border Wednesday before the rules changed.
“I have faith,” Inigo said.
Authorities in the remote desert community of Yuma, Arizona, expressed alarm after the average daily number of migrant arrivals grew from 300 to 1,000.
Hundreds who entered the Yuma area by crossing the Colorado River early Thursday surrendered to border agents, who later brought adults and children to buses.
Mayor Doug Nicholls asked that the federal government declare a national disaster so that Federal Emergency Management Agency resources and National Guard troops can be rushed to his and other small border communities.
Most migrants are transported to shelters operated by nonprofit organizations farther away from the border, but border officials will release them into communities if enough transportation isn't available. Nicholls said officials have already told him they plan to release 141 people in Yuma County on Friday.
“The question keeps coming up: ‘What now?’ I've been asking that question for two years with no answers,” Nicholls said. “We are in a situation we've never been in before.”
Leaders of nonprofit organizations that assist asylum seekers away from the border in Arizona say they are as ready as possible for the new scenario.
“We’ll put our best foot forward and approach this with every resource available,” said Teresa Cavendish, executive director of the Tucson shelter Casa Alitas, the state's largest. “But it may not be enough.”
Catholic Community Services of Southern Arizona runs Casa Alitas’ new 300-bed facility for men and four other locations that temporarily house women, families, and vulnerable people for a combined capacity of over 1,000 beds.
David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee, who visited the organization's Welcome Center in Phoenix this week, was confident the agency could handle any increase in asylum seekers there. The 340-bed shelter was at less than half capacity.
Beth Strano, engagement manager for the center in a quiet south Phoenix neighborhood, said: “We served 50,000 people last year and 38,000 people the year before that without any negative impact to our clients or community.”
Smugglers helped Guatemalan Sheidi Mazariegos and her 4-year-old son get to Matamoros, Mexico, where she and the child crossed the Rio Grande on a raft.
But Border Patrol agents took the pair into custody a week ago near Brownville, Texas. On Thursday, the 26-year-old and her son returned to Guatemala on one of two flights carrying 387 migrants.
“I heard on the news that there was an opportunity to enter," Mazariegos said. "I heard it on the radio, but it was all a lie.”
On a stretch of border wall in Tijuana, migrants asked passersby for blankets, food, and water as the sun set over a steep hill.
Gerson Aguilera, 41, got to Tijuana around 4 p.m. with his three kids and wife to make a go at the crossing and ask for asylum. From Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Aguilera said he and his family fled after organized criminals demanded he pays twice the extortion money he was already paying of 2,000 Honduran lempiras (roughly $81) a week.
“It’s very hard. For payment, they will kill you,” Aguilera said with tears in his eyes.
The welding shop owner, Aguilera, said he left his home once before in 2020 because of threats but returned when things calmed down. That wasn’t an option anymore.
“We ask that God helps us,” Aguilar said.
Associated Press journalists Gerardo Carrillo in Matamoros, Mexico, María Verza in Ciudad Juarez, Sonia Pérez D. in Guatemala City, Julie Watson in San Diego and Suman Naishadham in Tijuana contributed to this report. Snow reported from Phoenix.
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