Migrants queue at the border wall to be received by Border Patrol agents after crossing the Rio Bravo river (or Rio Grande river, as it is called in the US) from Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state, Mexico to El Paso, Texas, US on December 21, 2022.
US border officials watch migrants use rafts to cross into US
02:58 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

As a Trump-era migration policy remains in limbo, so are the lives of thousands of migrants waiting across the United States border, many sleeping out in the cold in encampments or overcrowded shelters, hoping to cross to request asylum.

In Matamoros, Mexico, near the US border across from Brownsville on the southern tip of Texas, migrants – mostly Venezuelans and Haitians – are living in a large encampment, with tarp-covered tents and clotheslines stretching between them. Some families have been waiting there for weeks.

Migrants who spoke to CNN by phone and in person describe the conditions in the camp as dire. They are sleeping under tents and don’t know where their next meal will come from. Temperatures are expected to dip below freezing in the next few days.

Many, including mothers and sick children, are living on the streets, in abandoned homes and on sidewalks as they wait. “They feel desperate,” said Glady Edith Cañas, director of the non-profit Ayudándoles a Triunfar.

At the heart of their limbo: Some migrants have been waiting for the end of the public health border policy known as Title 42. The 2020 policy, which officials said was an effort to curb the spread of Covid-19, allows authorities to swiftly expel migrants encountered at the southern border, with some exceptions.

The Title 42 policy was set to end Wednesday, but Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts on Monday put a temporary hold on its termination. Until the court issues an order – which can come at any time – the authority will remain in place; the Biden administration is asking the court to let the policy end next week.

Officials have predicted lifting Title 42 will result in a spike in the number of migrants trying to cross into the US, and border cities have been bracing for a flood of people.

Now, because the end of Title 42 is delayed, uncertainty looms over those waiting at the border.

Some migrants are not waiting

CNN drone pilot Al Meshberg captured video of a large group of migrants gathered on the Mexican banks of the Rio Grande and a large law enforcement presence of US Border Patrol, Texas Department of Public Safety and Texas National Guard on the US side.

As CNN cameras rolled, a group of migrants, including small children, crossed the river on a raft. Moments after the migrants crossed into the United States, the migrants could be seen walking out of the bushes wrapped in synthetic blankets while being escorted to Border Patrol vehicles.

This week at Matamoros, some used inflatable rafts to cross the Rio Grande, pulling themselves over on a rope attached to the US side. In a video of a crossing there obtained by CNN, some are heard saying they were tired of waiting.

Meanwhile, at the westernmost edge of Texas this week, some 800 miles northwest of Matamoros, National Guard troops and state police lined one side of the Rio Grande at El Paso, and armed members of the Mexican army line some parts of the other side at Ciudad Juárez.

There, after crossing the river – wading through discarded belongings of those who came before them – migrants have in recent days lined up for hours near the border wall to turn themselves in to US Border Patrol agents.

As the sun set, some lit fires to keep warm or wrapped themselves in blankets and stayed in line.

A group of migrants are waiting on the US side of the Rio Grande as the Texas National Guard blocked access to parts of the border with barbed wire and vehicles as seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on December 20, 2022.

Early Tuesday, National Guard members and state troopers put up barbed wire, blocking a common crossing used by thousands of migrants over the past several weeks. Four people were taken into custody after they tried to crawl under the barbed wire, video showed.

Migrants hoping to cross were told Wednesday morning to go to a point about a mile down the river. There, once again, they lined up outside the border wall on the US side to present themselves for asylum requests.

Elsewhere on the US side, shelters are packed, and still, not everyone is sheltered. A crowd of migrants could be seen sleeping on the ground outside a bus station Sunday in El Paso.

And the region will get dangerously cold Friday night and Saturday morning: Wind chills could reach 15 degrees early Saturday in El Paso, and the upper 20s in the Brownsville area.

El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser declared a state of emergency Saturday, due to a surge of migrants who have recently arrived in the community and are living in what he described as unsafe conditions.

The mayor said Monday he heard more than 20,000 migrants were on the Mexican side of the border, waiting for Title 42 to be lifted.

Drone footage showed a large crowd of migrants lining up near the border in El Paso on Tuesday, with families and small children waiting near barbed wiring and Texas National Guard troops.