By Jorge Fuentelsaz
El Paso, Texas, May 11 (EFE).- The United States Border Patrol on Thursday detained hundreds of potential asylum-seekers who had been staying at encampments on US soil just south of two gates of the border wall outside this border city.
The operation was carried out just hours before the expiration of Title 42, a pandemic-era border policy put in place in the spring of 2020 that has allowed the immediate expulsion of undocumented migrants from the US for public health reasons without allowing them the chance to request asylum.
After several days of being rounded up by agents into two large groups at Gates 40 and 42, around 16 kilometers (25 miles) east of El Paso, the migrants were transported – first by bus and then by van – in the direction of Border Patrol detention centers between shortly before 7 am and 10.30 am.
At Gate 40, they walked to the vehicles in a line, many of them with their heads down and some handcuffed.
After they had cleared the area between the 5.5-meter-high (18-foot-high) wall and the Rio Grande, the border agents removed plastic and other waste the migrants had left behind.
At around midday, the same process was repeated at Gate 42.
The detainees will now be processed by the Border Patrol, which will determine whether to expel the migrants or allow them to begin asylum processes.
Democratic Party officials at the federal level and in El Paso have redoubled their efforts in recent days and hours to make a show of strength to migrants and convey a sense of normalcy at the border before Title 42 expires at 9.59 pm local time Thursday in El Paso (0359 GMT Friday).
By contrast, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican who earlier this week announced the deployment of a new Texas Tactical Border Force to the border, has continued with his habitual anti-immigrant messaging in an attempt to project an image of chaos and danger.
Over the past three days, border agents intimidated hundreds of undocumented asylum-seekers who had gathered around the Sacred Heart Church in downtown El Paso, telling them they would be forcibly detained if they did not voluntarily turn themselves in to immigration authorities.
And in recent hours El Paso’s Democratic mayor, Oscar Leeser, said the city has 4,400 new beds to house migrants, although they are only available to those who have gone through initial border processing.
With the expiration of Title 42, the US will return to the pre-pandemic rules – known as Title 8 – for enforcing immigration law. Additionally, President Joe Biden’s administration has announced new measures that are designed to make it difficult for most migrants to qualify for asylum protection.
Under those new measures, migrants who cross the border illegally and did not request asylum in Mexico or another country en route to the US border will be immediately deemed ineligible to start the process.
Separately, the Department of Homeland Security has just launched a digital ad campaign to dissuade Latin American migrants from entering the US.
It said in a press release Wednesday that “these messages will run in countries throughout South and Central America, including in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Ecuador, and Colombia, leverage geo-targeting along the migratory path and social media platforms popular among migrants and include the ability for anyone to share the ads with others.”
“The coyote (people smugglers) swindled us. Entering the USA illegally is a crime. Say no to the coyote,” reads one Spanish-language message included in the ad campaign, accompanied by the image of a migrant family walking in the desert.
Other digital ads in the campaign read “Crossing illegally is a crime. US immigration laws are tougher” and “Crossing illegally is a crime. There are consequences.”
“These consequences include deportation, a five-year bar on reentry and criminal prosecution for repeated attempts to enter unlawfully,” the DHS says, adding that “individuals who illegally cross the US southwest border will be presumed ineligible for asylum under new regulations.” EFE