Asylum seekers can be seen through the border wall in San Ysidro on May 11, 2023.
Asylum seekers can be seen through the border wall in San Ysidro on May 11, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

The end of Title 42 as a pandemic-era border asylum policy has been both a major international story and a local one. As changes loomed last week, hundreds of asylum hopefuls camped out for days on the U.S. side of the California-Mexico border, uncertain of what awaited them.

Meanwhile, the first group of asylum seekers able to secure appointments in San Diego under the Biden administration’s new policy entered the San Ysidro Port of Entry on Friday. 

The pandemic restrictions, in effect since March 2020, allowed U.S. officials to expel most migrants back across the border to avoid the spread of COVID-19. But those who were sent back could try again without facing legal sanctions. The Biden administration’s new policy, which went into effect Thursday at 9 p.m. PST, is a return to processing for asylum seekers outlined in Title 8 of the United States Code

The transition has once again focused attention on the U.S.-Mexico border, as shifts in U.S. immigration policy play out on both sides. This week, the Border Report takes a look at how events unfolded along San Diego County’s border with Mexico–from San Ysidro to Jacumba Hot Springs.

The new rules: The changes include stiffer consequences for illegal entry into the U.S., and stipulate that only those with appointments at U.S. ports of entry–obtained through an U.S. Customs and Border app known as CBP One – are allowed  to apply. Those who cross illegally are subject to deportation, a minimum five-year ban on re-entering, and potential criminal prosecution. To be considered  for asylum, applicants (for nationalities other than Mexican) now must show they have been rejected for asylum by another country.

In Tijuana, there have been widely reported problems with the appointment process. Many migrants have struggled on their cellphones to register on CBP One, only to be kicked off the platform. Intended to allow direct access for migrants, the process prioritizes, “asylum seekers who have the resources to have newer phones and strong internet connections,” according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. 

Relative calm: Both nationally and locally, fears of chaos failed to materialize as the new asylum rules took hold. While crossings rose to near-record levels in the days before Title 42 expired, U.S. Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas on Sunday announced an overall 50 percent drop in U.S. Border Patrol encounters along the Mexican border after the new rules went into effect.

Hours after the switch on Friday, KPBS News reported “relative calm” at the Tijuana border. Tijuana’s Agencia Fronteriza de Noticias described “normal operations” at the San Ysidro Port of Entry.

Makeshift camps: But just to the west of the Port of Entry, off of Monument Road, news cameras continuously rolled as a few hundred people, many families with young children, formed an impromptu camp in a buffer zone between two U.S. border fences. 

Asylum seekers can be seen through the border wall in San Ysidro on May 11, 2023.
Asylum seekers can be seen through the border wall in San Ysidro on May 11, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

Some of the migrants said  they hoped to be o processed under Title 42, rather than the new rules, though one advocate said many were not even aware of the change. The migrants wore colored wristbands indicating their arrival dates. One man from Afghanistan told Channel 10 he had paid someone in Tijuana $350 for a chance to crawl under a hole under the primary border wall with his family.

U.S. Border Patrol Vehicles took away small groups at a time for processing. As TV reporters

filed live on-the-scene updates, volunteers with the American Friends Service Committee and other groups passed out food, water, blankets and sanitary supplies to migrants who reached through the steel bollard fence. Some volunteers manned a charging station for migrants’ cell phones.

Asylum seekers stick their hands through the fence waiting for water, snacks and fruit in San Ysidro on May 11, 2023.
Asylum seekers stick their hands through the fence waiting for water, snacks and fruit in San Ysidro on May 11, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

About a mile-and-a-half to the west, at a stretch of the border fence that is more difficult to access, several hundred male migrants traveling without families also waited by the border fence for processing. They told the Union-Tribune on Friday they had been separated from the other group after some of the men had problems with the women there. 

Far to the east in the unincorporated San Diego County community of Jacumba Hot Springs, a third group of migrants – as many as 1,400 by some estimates – waited in the desert last week about a mile from the border, many without food and water, inewsource reported Friday.  Volunteer groups soon mobilized to help the migrants. 

By late Sunday, members of the first two groups had been taken for processing by the U.S. Border Patrol. Some 400 people in Jacumba were still waiting for processing, according to the Union-Tribune.

San Diego reaction: Anxious about an influx of migrants entering under the new rules, public officials in San Diego have grappled with how to prepare, and asked federal representatives for help in the days before Title 42’s application to the pandemic ended. 

On Friday, after the asylum rules changed, El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells told KUSI-TV, “I don’t think we’ve begun to see the number of people who will be on our streets. El Cajon hasn’t seen anything yet, we’re certainly watching.” But San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, according to Channel 7, said that San Diego is a pass-through city for migrants, and 90 percent are on their way elsewhere.

What’s next: Large numbers of migrants remain in northern Mexico – close to 60,000 according to the U.S. Border Patrol’s figures, though the Mexican government’s count was less than half that number last week, 26,560.

According to Mexican federal figures, some 3,000 are in Tijuana, though others cite a higher number. KPBS has reported that some 16,000 migrants were waiting in Tijuana before Title 42 ended. 

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1 Comment

  1. What a great journalist is Sandra. She can resume a world in less than 500 words.

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