A refugee camp sits on a sharp bend of the Rio Grande. It's just a swim away from the U.S. border near Brownsville, Texas, if you dare.
"But we didn't have anything. Because we didn't have other means. But it was the only means for us to pass and fulfill a dream," said Luzmery Telleria, a Venezuelan asylum seeker.
Telleria counts herself among the thousands of Venezuelans at the makeshift community in Matamoros. It's one of the most dangerous cities in northern Mexico, where migrants often fall prey to kidnappers, gangsters and rapists.
She's just one of many desperate people along the U.S. border trying to navigate recent and confusing changes in U.S. immigration policies.
The Trump administration invoked Title 42 in 2020 — using an existing public health policy to prevent COVID-19 from spreading, as a substitute for immigration law. It resulted in the expulsion of millions of asylum seekers back to Mexico.
The policy expires just before midnight tonight, with President Joe Biden announcing changes to the legal pathways to reach the U.S. But White House officials are still discouraging migrants from trying to cross over.
"Let me be clear, the lifting of the Title 42 health order does not mean our border is open, in fact, it is the contrary," said Sec. Alejandro Mayorkas, of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The new policies are confusing to many migrants, many of whom are desperately trying to score an appointment at a border checkpoint on a glitchy app, with only 1,000 available spots a day.
Some migrants have tried for appointments for months — with no luck.
People can also try for asylum through "humanitarian parole" — although this option is limited to Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans.
They have a shot of living in the U.S. for two years, but only if they can afford a plane ticket and have a sponsor to take financial responsibility for them.
The last option is to cross illegally and begin a formal deportation process. Families and children will most likely be put on a slower track, meaning they can live and work legally in the U.S. until a court hearing. But single adults will likely be removed quickly. Migrants also face what's called a "transit ban." That means they must first seek asylum in countries they've passed through, which can be an extremely lengthy and potentially dangerous process.
But if they skip this step and cross illegally, U.S. immigration officials can block their entry and deport them.
Luis Miranda, a communications deputy at Homeland Security, told Scripps News that the regulations are meant to open up an immigration bottleneck and give opportunities to migrants who need them most.
"Let's set up regional processing centers. Let's work to make sure that people have options so that if they're looking to seek asylum for one of the protected categories, or if they're looking to come fill a job — how can we make sure that we match those things up?" Miranda said.
But officials like Mayor Victor Trevino of Laredo, Texas, fear chaos and strain on his city's resources once Title 42 is lifted.
"We're in the trenches of an immigration problem, so we're boarding up like as if it's a hurricane coming," said Trevino.
Under Title 42, migrants could cross as many times as they wanted without harsh penalties.
But starting tomorrow, anyone who crosses the border without pursuing these new pathways could face deportation within days and be banned from re-entry into the U.S. for five years.
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