EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The number of migrants in federal custody in El Paso is again reaching historic highs, and federal officials attribute at least some of that to false rumors in Mexico of U.S. leniency toward asylum-seekers in the wake of a March 27 fire in Juarez that killed 40 migrants.
More than 4,500 migrants were in U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody on both Wednesday and Thursday, according to the City of El Paso’s migrant dashboard website, which relies on information from CBP.
That compares to the 4,568 that were being held in El Paso Sector facilities during the first week of October 2022, when a surge of Venezuelan asylum-seekers overwhelmed processing centers and led to numerous releases of paroled migrants onto El Paso streets.
Federal officials say holding capacity has not reached a critical point this time around because of the addition in January of a soft-sided processing facility near Chaparral, New Mexico. No migrants have been released onto El Paso streets.
However, the U.S. Border Patrol has launched a bilingual public information campaign to stem the tide, reminding migrants they will be expelled back to Mexico if they come across between ports of entry or show up without appointments.
“The border is not open for those without authorization or a legal basis to enter. The El Paso Sector is working with other sectors to assist with the expulsion of migrants encountered in the region,” said Fidel Baca, a spokesman for the Border Patrol. “Migrants not amenable to (Title 42) expulsion but do not have a legal basis to remain in the U.S. will be placed in removal procedures under Title 8. That has not changed.”
Border agents say they are coming across migrants who express they were told in Mexico the U.S. would not expel them if they crossed into El Paso because of supposed leniency or pity following the events in Juarez.
On March 27, migrants trying to prevent deportation to their home countries allegedly started a fire inside a Juarez detention center, but no one opened their cells. Thirty-eight died on the scene, two more died in hospitals and five guards and Mexican immigration agents are now facing charges in connection to the deaths.
Two days later, more than 1,000 migrants walked over to El Paso from Juarez, hoping they would be paroled and released until their asylum hearing.
But the Department of Homeland Security issued guidelines in January directing citizens of four countries with a heavy presence in Juarez to apply for asylum remotely and providing loss of immigration benefits for those who come across without an appointment.
Border agents say they are applying such guidelines and expelling ineligible migrants not only back to Juarez but sending them to other U.S. border cities to be returned to Mexico at other ports.
U.S. Border Patrol El Paso Sector Chief Scott Good on Friday tweeted a photo of agency vehicles parked next to an airplane transporting migrants to another city. “Did you know the El Paso Sector leverages flights to other sectors along the Southwest border to assist with the expulsion and repatriation of migrants?” he wrote.