Less than 24 hours after the Title 42 immigration policy ended, approximately 23,000 migrants were in Border Patrol custody, a Department of Homeland Security official told CNN, as tens of thousands more have gathered at the US-Mexico border seeking asylum.
“We knew this was going to be a difficult transition,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in an interview with Good Morning America on Friday.
The transition, from Title 42 to Title 8 and President Joe Biden’s new policies is one that will have a slow-burning impact on migrants, Border Patrol and US cities and towns that will have to make room for asylum seekers.
Under Title 42, which was enacted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) during the Covid-19 pandemic, authorities were able to turn away more than 2.8m migrants under the pretext of slowing the spread of the virus.
But under Title 8, asylum seekers who cross illegally will be detained, deported, issued a five-year ban on re-entry and could possibly face criminal charges, according to Mr Mayorkas.
Ahead of Title 42 expiring, Texas cities like Laredo, Brownsville and El Paso declared a state of emergency as they prepared for an increase in migrants.
By Thursday afternoon, there were approximately 1,000 migrants waiting to be processed in El Paso.
However, Friday was less chaotic than some officials had anticipated after the midnight expiration of Title 42, as the Assistant Secretary for Border and Immigration Policy Blas Nuñez told CNN there was no “substantial increase overnight or an influx at midnight” of migrants.
The slow increase in the number of asylum seekers over the last week has had the biggest impact on border cities.
Eddie Treviño, the county judge of Cameron County, Texas, told The New York Times said the number of people was “straining our capacity”.
To help reduce overcrowding at Border Patrol facilities, thousands of migrants have been bused to cities around the US and the Biden administration allowed some migrants into the US without formal court hearings.
However, a federal judge in Florida blocked the Biden administration’s action, forcing asylum seekers to go through the formal immigration process. Mr Mayorkas called the judge’s decision “harmful”.
Under Mr Biden’s new immigration policies, asylum seekers will be turned away at the border unless they have made a hard-to-get appointment or fall under several legal pathways that were revealed in January.
However, many Democrats and organisations are finding problems with Mr Biden’s slow-moving immigration process which will require migrants, from countries other than Mexico, to seek asylum in another country before entering the US.
The American Civil Liberties Union, and other civil rights organisations, filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration for the new policies, claiming they are too restrictive and not attainable.
Additionally, 13 Democrats from New York, including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, sent Mr Biden a letter on Friday requesting he lessen the required amount of time for migrants to receive work authorisation.
But despite the strict rules, Republicans are also angry at Mr Biden, seeking to use the situation at the border as a political cudgel against the president as he runs for re-election.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz called the influx of migrants “an invasion” in videos he posted to his Twitter and blamed Mr Biden for the deaths of asylum seekers at the border.
In a press briefing, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the administration was “aware of the tragic loss” and that President Joe Biden had been briefed on it.
“There is a medical investigation that was opened on May 10,” Ms Jean-Pierre said.
HHS said in a statement that it was “deeply saddened by this tragic loss and our hearts go out to the family, with whom we are in touch,” according to NBC News.