EL PASO, Texas (AP) — Tensions on the U.S.-Mexico border remained high Tuesday amid uncertainty over future restrictions on asylum seekers, with the Biden administration asking the Supreme Court not to make a decision on Christmas Day. The restrictions will be lifted before the festival.
The U.S. government’s request comes a day after Chief Justice John Roberts issued an interim order to maintain restrictions on immigration during the pandemic. The restrictions were due to expire on Wednesday, before Roberts issued the order.
The federal government acknowledged that ending restrictions could lead to “disruptions and a temporary increase in illegal border crossings”. But the administration is asking the court to throw out efforts by a group of conservative-leaning states to maintain a measure that would allow officials to deport many but not all asylum seekers.
Since March 2020, immigrants have been denied 2.5 million asylum rights under U.S. and international law under a public health rule known as Title 42 to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Communities on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border are under pressure as decisions about next steps loom.
In El Paso, Democratic Mayor Oscar Leeser warned that shelters at the Ciudad Juárez border were overcrowded with an estimated 20,000 migrants preparing to enter the U.S.
With the Red Cross bringing in 10,000 cribs, the city is eager to expand its capacity to accommodate more immigrants by converting large buildings into shelters. Local officials also hope to ease pressure on area shelters by chartering buses to other big cities in Texas or nearby states, coordinating with nonprofits to bring immigrants closer to relatives and sponsors.
“We will continue to prepare for whatever is coming,” Leeser said.
Members of the Texas National Guard, who were deployed by the state to El Paso this week, used barbed wire Tuesday to seal off a gap in the border fence along the Rio Grande that has become a popular crossing point for wading migrants in recent days. Water District approached immigration officials. They used a megaphone to announce in Spanish that it was illegal to cross the street.
The state of Texas said it would send 400 National Guard personnel to border cities after local officials declared a state of emergency. According to a statement from the Texas National Guard, Lisse said the primary purpose of the statement was to protect vulnerable immigrants, and the deployment included troops to “repel and deport illegal immigrants.”
Conservative states take last-minute appeal to Supreme Court, saying rising immigration will hit public services Such as law enforcement and health care, and warned of an “unprecedented disaster” at the southern border.
The federal government told a court on Tuesday it had mobilized more resources to the southern border in preparation for the end of Title 42. That includes more Border Patrol processing coordinators, more surveillance and increased security at ports of entry, according to President Joe Biden’s administration.
About 23,000 special agents are currently deployed to the southern border, according to the White House.
“In no way will the administration attempt to minimize the magnitude of this problem,” the Biden administration wrote in its filing to the Supreme Court. “But the solution to the immigration problem cannot be the indefinite extension of public health measures that all now Everyone acknowledges that it has outgrown its public health justification.”
However, the government has also asked the court to give it some time to prepare if it decides to allow the restrictions to be lifted. If the Supreme Court acts by Friday, the government hopes to keep the restrictions in place until the end of December. 27. If the court acts on Friday or later, the government wants to keep the restrictions in place until the next working day after such an order is issued. Either timetable – if approved – would mean Title 42 would come into effect after Christmas.
States seeking to maintain the restrictions argued in a last-minute appeal to the Supreme Court that the federal government has no plan to deal with rising immigration — and in Washington, where Republicans control the House of Representatives and make immigration a key issue.
Immigrant advocates say the Title 42 restrictions imposed under the 1944 Health Act violate U.S. and international obligations to people who flee to the U.S. to escape persecution — and that the excuse is outdated as coronavirus treatments improve. They sued to end use of Title 42; a federal judge sided with them in November and set a 21 deadline in December.
The ACLU and other groups pushing to end the use of Section 42 told the Supreme Court on Tuesday that continuing the restrictions could “cause further harm to non-citizens.” Like the government, the states have accused states of bad timing, saying they waited too long to try to intervene and that their delays were threatening “sabotage”.
At a church-affiliated shelter in El Paso a few blocks from the border, the pastor. Michael Gallagher said local religious leaders have struggled to pool resources and open up gaps. A gymnasium at the Sacred Heart Church provided shelter for 200 migrants, mostly women and children, on Tuesday.
Outside a church on Monday, Jose Natera, a 48-year-old handyman from the Venezuelan town of Guaquepuro, said it took him three months to get to El Paso, sometimes on foot and without Money, and no sponsors to get him further.
“I have to stop here until I get my ticket,” he said.
Roman Catholic Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso expressed concern that a delay in ending restrictions would leave migrants who had to flee their homes unable to even make a case for protection in the United States after years of pent-up demand.
“What about those who are on the road?” he said.
Title 42 restrictions apply to all nationalities, but disproportionately apply to people from countries that Mexico has agreed to take back: in addition to Mexico, there are Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and most recently Venezuela.
Santana reported from Washington, DC. Juan Lozano in Houston and Alicia Fernández in Ciudad Juárez contributed to this report.