Tension Mounts at the Border as New Asylum Regulations Take Effect in the US

There is mounting tension and uncertainty at the US border with Mexico as the Supreme Court temporarily blocks a lower court's order to stop turning back migrants based on rules implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Conservative-leaning states had sought to maintain limits on asylum seekers, citing concerns that an increase in numbers would strain public services such as healthcare and law enforcement, and warning of an "unprecedented calamity" at the southern border. 

The Supreme Court has granted a stay and has asked the Biden administration to respond by 5 PM on Tuesday, just hours before the restrictions are set to expire on Wednesday.

The Department of Homeland Security, which is responsible for border security, has acknowledged the Chief Justice's order and stated that it will continue "preparations to manage the border in a safe, orderly, and humane way when the Title 42 public health order lifts". 

Since March 2020, Title 42 has allowed the US to deny migrants their rights to seek asylum under US and international law over 2.5 million times, citing the need to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

As the deadline approaches, pressure is building in communities on both sides of the southwestern US border. In El Paso, Mayor Oscar Leeser has warned that shelters in Ciudad Juárez are at capacity with an estimated 20,000 migrants prepared to cross into the US. 

Despite the temporary stay granted by the Supreme Court, the city of El Paso has taken steps to expand its capacity to accommodate more migrants by converting large buildings into shelters and the Red Cross is bringing in 10,000 cots. 

Local officials are also hoping to ease pressure on local shelters by chartering buses to other cities in Texas and nearby states, bringing migrants closer to their relatives and sponsors in coordination with non-profit organizations.

At a church-affiliated shelter a few blocks from the border, migrants including women and children lined up on Monday in the hope of securing a bed for the night and accepting donations of food from passing cars. 

Police and municipal garbage workers also arrived to remove abandoned blankets and discarded possessions. 

Jose Natera, a 48-year-old handyman from Venezuela, told reporters that he had traveled for three months to reach El Paso, sometimes on foot, with no money or sponsors to take him further.