Asylum seekers wait at the US-Mexico border in San Ysidro on May 9, 2023.
Asylum seekers wait at the U.S.-Mexico border in San Ysidro on May 9, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

This post originally appeared in the May 11 Morning Report.

Local officials are bracing for an influx of migrants as the federal government’s order under Title 42 expires on Thursday. But what it all means is still anyone’s guess. 

The order allowed border authorities to turn away asylum seekers during the pandemic. Now, the president is lifting emergency orders related to the pandemic including this one. Thousands of people may cross seeking asylum and not be able to move on to their destinations immediately, straining local shelters.

The city of San Diego put together a “toolkit” for shelter providers to distribute, which includes a list of service providers, but is otherwise looking to the county to take the lead. 

The county said it’s coordinating with state, federal and local agencies and organizations while advocating for more funding. 

Strain on emergency services: UC San Diego Health is preparing for a possible influx of patients, according to an email sent to staff. The hospital system is under a “Code Orange” alert, which is to say hospital management expects an increase in patients that could put a strain on resources.

  • Asylum seekers from various countries wait at the US-Mexico border in San Ysidro on May 8, 2023.
  • Photo of a man found next to the US-Mexico border wall in San Ysidro on May 9, 2023.
  • Asylum seekers from various countries wait at the US-Mexico border in San Ysidro on May 8, 2023.
  • A border patrol agent speaks to asylum seekers who are waiting at the US-Mexico border in San Ysidro on May 8, 2023 days before Title 42 is set to end.
  • Asylum seekers wait at the US-Mexico border in San Ysidro on May 9, 2023.
  • Asylum seekers from various countries wait at the US-Mexico border in San Ysidro on May 8, 2023.

Shelter space is the immediate issue: Last week, the county told us it had prepared a list of unused and underused properties that may be used to build out shelter infrastructure. When shelters have reached capacity in the past, federal authorities have dropped off hundreds of people on the streets. 

“That’s what we don’t want to happen,” said Vino Pajanor, CEO of Catholic Charities of San Diego, which runs three shelters totaling 1,500 beds and is the fiscal sponsor for other groups. 

Money finally coming: FEMA awarded $33 million to Catholic Charities to support migrants in need of food, shelter and other services while awaiting immigration court proceedings. Pajanor reiterated, as he also told KPBS earlier in the week, he’s still in the dark because the feds haven’t given local nonprofits any idea of how many migrants will be allowed to enter. 

“Nobody knows exactly whether the surge is going to happen, or what the level of the surge is going to be,” he said.

Border patrol selects a group of men who are asylum seekers and moves them to a different section along the US-Mexico border wall in San Ysidro on May 9, 2023.
Border patrol selects a group of men who are asylum seekers and moves them to a different section along the U.S.-Mexico border wall in San Ysidro on May 9, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

East County took a shot: El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells said he’s expecting 1,000 people to cross over the border each day, a quarter of which are likely to be dropped off at a light rail station in his city, which is already home to a large refugee population. 

“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 in an open letter to federal authorities. 

Supervisor Joel Anderson, in the meantime, said he’s grateful for the FEMA funding but also urged federal officials to do more. He called on FEMA “to ensure we have enough shelter space for the incoming surge of migrants and avoid federally-sponsored homelessness,” in a statement. 

Looking ahead: The Union-Tribune warned that, while the Title 42 order is lifting, it’ll have a longer imprint on the asylum process. The federal government plans, the newspaper reported, to still restrict asylum eligibility and ramp up speedy deportations.

Jesse Marx

Jesse Marx is Voice of San Diego's associate editor.

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