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Title 42 ended Thursday night. County awaits aid for influx of asylum seekers

With the pandemic-era Title 42 policy to block immigrants at the southern border set to expire at 8:59 p.m. PST Thursday, asylum-seekers are gathered near the San Ysidro port of entry, while officials around the county are asking for federal aid and the White House rolls out new rules.

At the border, people are waiting at an encampment between the border fences, many with their children, to cross the U.S. border with Tijuana. Many of them told KPBS News Thursday that while they don’t know what awaits them on the other side, it can’t be worse than what they’ve already endured. They said they're tired, hungry and scared.

Ana Silvia Munoz, a nurse from Colombia, said nighttime is the worst, because there’s no security.


"There’s people who just watch us and are trying to steal from us. Last night my friend did not sleep. They stole from him. The men should be up there but they’re down here," Munoz said in Spanish. She asked KPBS journalists to alert authorities, because she was afraid there would be retaliation against her if she reported it.

"We’re gravely concerned about the conditions of the migrants at the border," said Shane Harris, president of the People's Association of Justice Advocates.  


He said his organization is partnering with cross-border nonprofits to collect money and basic necessities including water, sleeping bags and feminine products to help asylum seekers while they wait to cross the border.

"This is a humanitarian crisis. We need San Diegans to step up," he said.

Harris said he's particularly worried about African and Haitian asylum seekers. He said he pressed Board of Supervisors chair Nora Vargas and nonprofits about the issue.

"The only thing that the county said was we will look into it," he said. "We know that there’s a history of racism, international racism, toward these people. We know that there’s a damn history with the way that these folks are treated, and this history needs to be spoken to and that truth needs to be told."

Harris' organization is collecting basic necessities, including water, sleeping bags and feminine hygeine products, at their headquarters.

On Wednesday, President Joe Biden's Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced a new rule in the wake of the expiring Title 42 which requires refugees and migrants to first seek and be denied asylum in another country before reaching the United States.

"We are finalizing a new rule to encourage individuals to use available lawful, safe and orderly pathways to enter the United States," Mayorkas said Wednesday. "The rule presumes that those who do not use lawful pathways to enter the United States are ineligible for asylum."

Human rights organizations decried the new rule as more of the same Trump-era policy.

"People fleeing persecution, violence and danger have the legal and human right to seek asylum in the United States," said Norma Chavez-Peterson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in San Diego and Imperial counties. "It is long past time that the federal government stop imposing unjust restrictions on access to asylum. Like Title 42, this new asylum ban will expose vulnerable people to unspeakable dangers.

"The Biden administration must reverse course. President Biden must keep his campaign promise to restore our nation's asylum laws," Chavez-Peterson said. "The federal government must prioritize rebuilding our country's asylum and immigration systems, including increasing support for and coordination with nonprofit organizations providing services to people seeking asylum."

Originally part of the 1944 Public Health Service Act, Title 42 allows two federal agencies — Border Patrol and U.S. Customs and Border Protection — to prohibit the entry of people who may pose a health risk.

As COVID-19 cases rose in March 2020, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a public health order allowing for rapid expulsion of unauthorized border crossers and asylum seekers. The U.S. Supreme Court under President Donald Trump continued to keep the restrictions in place.

Since it went into place, Customs and Border Protection has turned away more than 3 million asylum seekers. In April 2022, the CDC announced it would terminate the public health order in spring 2023.

Biden sent an additional 1,500 troops to the border last week in preparation for the end of Title 42. Around 16,000 migrants are waiting in Tijuana for the border restrictions to be lifted, KPBS reported.

Other local leaders are concerned about the impact of the thousands of refugees and asylum seekers likely to cross the border into the United States in the coming days and weeks.

"Unfortunately, the administration has yet to release this critical funding to the local governments, nonprofits and faith-based organizations that desperately need these funds to assist asylum seekers," wrote County Supervisor Joel Anderson in a letter to Biden last week.

El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells sent a letter on Wednesday to the White House asking for federal assistance and intervention to help handle the influx.

"I am told that about 1,000 people per day may enter San Diego County, with about 25% of them being dropped off at a light rail station in El Cajon," Wells wrote. "After speaking with Customs and Border Protection staff, my staff said that our small city would have between 300 and 500 asylum seekers left in El Cajon to fend for themselves.

"I expect to see these people with no credit cards or bank accounts and limited cash, which puts them in a precarious position regarding securing safe temporary housing," Wells wrote. "I expect these people may need psychological and/or medical intervention and will likely be exhausted, hungry, and disoriented."

Wells said he was sympathetic to those asylum seekers, but with the city dealing with its own homelessness crisis, those coming in would be left without resources.

"I am concerned that without Federal intervention, our current crisis, which takes our resources to an extreme level, will precipitate a full crisis," he wrote. "El Cajon is not equipped to be a refugee center."

In February, the county Board of Supervisors called on the chief administrative officer Helen Robbins-Meyer to develop a plan and identify possible actions to "ensure asylum seekers entering the U.S. will not add to the region's current homeless crisis."

"Now, more than ever, we should lead the way in building a just and humane immigration system that rises to meet the challenges of the current situation around the world," Chairwoman Vargas said in a statement after the February vote.

Lilian Serrano, the director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition, said it was time for a national reset on border and immigration policies.

"The United States can be a beacon for human rights, but our current treatment of migrants at the border falls short of our international commitments," she said. "Those seeking safety at our border should be treated at all times with humanity. Every policy, every practice, every proposal must start with dignity.

"SBCC stands ready to partner with government officials and elected leaders who commit to start with dignity to develop border policies that are humane, just and fair," Serrano said.