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Confusion reigns amid Title 42’s end

Priscilla Orta tries to assist people in Matamoros with their questions about the asylum process.
Gaige Davila
Priscilla Orta tries to assist people in Matamoros with their questions about the asylum process.

Immigration attorneys along the border are scrambling to help migrants seek asylum after the Biden administration ended a Trump-era pandemic border restriction, known as Title 42, and replaced it with a patchwork of different policies.

Now, the law says people must request asylum only at ports of entry and either have an appointment or prove they’ve already requested asylum elsewhere. If these conditions aren’t met, they can face a five-year ban on requesting asylum again.

After a week of navigating the new stringent regulations, lawyers are still finding them confusing and inconsistently enforced.

The day after Title 42’s end

Priscilla Orta, the supervising attorney for Project Corazon, crossed the bridge from Brownsville to Matamoros the day after the policy changes.

“The sense of confusion is higher than ever, largely because we are all trying to figure out what is going to take place today with these new rules,” she said while crossing into Matamoros.

She’s an immigration attorney and makes this trip several times a week to advise people in Mexico on seeking asylum.

“Part of our work is to literally put together 'know your rights' presentations so people can follow what's happening,” Orta explained.

This was her first trip helping asylum seekers under the post-Title 42 policies. She joined a delegation organized by the Haitian Bridge Alliance to “bear witness to the end of Title 42 and the start of new, restrictive border policies.”

A group of fifty migrants make their way from Matamoros to request asylum at the US port of entry.
Gaige Davila
A group of fifty migrants make their way from Matamoros to request asylum at the US port of entry.

In Matamoros, Orta was almost immediately approached by several migrants with questions about their asylum case.

But this time, she struggled with assisting people because she had so many unanswered questions about the policy changes.

The change also caused confusion among those seeking asylum. Santiago Urioste and his two sisters and mother heard that the day after Title 42 was set to end, U.S. officials in Brownsville would allow 50 people a day to approach the port of entry.

But just minutes before, Mexican officials had escorted the group of 50. The Uriostes hadn’t been part of this select few.

“We tried but they had already let through those who were allowed to pass,” Urioste said.

They thought the change would end their struggle to make an asylum appointment on the notoriously glitchy CBP One app. According to Urioste, the app, which was already difficult to navigate, is more difficult after an update just before the end of Title 42.

“We’re trying to enter through the CBP app but it changed. Before it was easier, now it’s harder,” he said. He explained that now the update only lets them apply for an appointment once every fourteen days rather than every day like before.

The Uriostes and two other families sat defeated by the shade of an idle ambulance. They were told that those in the migrant shelter were given priority.

Five days ago, they would’ve been included in this group but he and the other families decided to leave for the sake of the children’s health.

Most of the kids were ill. Urioste’s little sister wouldn’t stop coughing and was anemic. One of the other mothers, Elica De La Carmen, whose son was also sick, explained why she had chosen to leave.

Elica De La Carmen, who seeks asylum from Matamoros, holds a bloody tissue to her sick son's nose.
Gaige Davila
Elica De La Carmen holds a bloody tissue to her sick son's nose.

“They get sick a lot [at the shelter] because that’s where they put everyone, and they’re all breathing the same air,” she said as she held a bloody tissue to her son’s nose.

She was desperate to enter the U.S. as she worried about her son’s condition.

“He’s very feverish and his nose bleeds a lot. He has been this way for three days,” she said.

A week after Title 42’s end

A week later, De La Carmen is still in Mexico with her sick son. But the Uriostes got lucky.

They continued trying to make an appointment to no avail. But they pleaded with the shelter’s psychologist, who was able to get them into the last group of 50 without appointments to enter the United States. Now they waited for their flight to California from a U.S. airport.

De La Carmen did get an asylum appointment before the last group of fifty left. So she and her sick son had to stay in Mexico until her appointment.

Priscilla Orta, the immigration lawyer, said that while it seems like the Uriostes caught a break she especially worries about cases like theirs.

“These are still people who crossed without an appointment. And crossed without seeking asylum in a third country,” Orta said. She explained that, technically, they violated the law, even though they were chosen to enter.

She doesn’t know whether this will negatively affect them later on in their asylum case.

“We're trying to give advice to people about their lives. And the truth is. I don't know what will happen next,” she said.

Santiago Urioste stands by an idle ambulance by the port of entry in Matamoros.
Gaige Davila
Santiago Urioste stands by an idle ambulance by the port of entry in Matamoros.

These aren’t the only issues that have plagued Orta in her first week navigating the asylum system under different rules.

Another is the future of humanitarian parole, which is a program for undocumented people to enter the United States quickly in dire circumstances — like the burn victims from the Juarez immigration detention center fire.

“They acknowledge that this program will continue. It's part of the rule,” she said. “And then out of nowhere, I was told today that they hadn't received guidance on really how to handle these situations but they do agree that if you approach the bridge, you are subject to the ban as far as they understood.”

So it’s unclear if people who approach the port of entry seeking humanitarian parole will be treated as violating the law.

Yet, despite increased penalties, she still sees people in such desperation for protection, they’d risk their entire asylum case.

Orta said there is no precedent for how cases like the Uriostes will work out. For the time being, the future remains unclear for many people seeking refuge.

“I think that's really what's changed the most over these past few days. I don't think I ever realized how much it mattered,” she said. “I'm really sad that we all get to see and find out what people are willing to go through.”

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Gaige Davila is a journalist based in the Rio Grande Valley. He was TPR's Border and Immigration Reporter from 2021-2024.