Pandemic-era shelter restrictions, known as Title 42 were rarely discussed among many of the tens of thousands of migrants who have gathered at Mexico’s border with the United States.

Their eyes were — and remain — focused instead on the US government’s new mobile program, which allows 1,000 people a day to make appointments to cross the border and claim asylum while living in the US. With demand far outstripping available slots, the program has become an exercise in frustration for many — and a test of the Biden administration’s strategy of combining new legal paths to entry with harsh consequences for those who don’t.

“You start to lose hope, but this is the only way,” said Teresa Muñoz, 48, who fled her home in the Mexican state of Michoacán after a gang killed her husband and beat her. She has been trying to access the app for a month, called CBPOnewhile in a shelter in Tijuana with two children and a 2-year-old grandson.

Manuel Sanchez, 40, told CBS News that he tried and failed to get an immigration appointment on CBPOne. He said he and other Venezuelan migrants may return if they can’t get an appointment.

For those who made it to the US, some are exhausted and penniless. 32-year-old Victor Blanco from Venezuela lost almost everything while swimming across a river in Colombia.

Blanco is now waiting at a bus station in Brownsville, Texas to start a new life in the US. But others remain in overcrowded processing centers.

“We hold about 5,000 people and my capacity is about 4,600,” said Gloria Chavez, chief patrol agent for the Rio Grande Valley Sector.

Asylum seekers extend their phones across the border wall
Asylum seekers hold their phones over the border wall as they ask volunteers to pick their phone next to charge.

Jon Putman/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the Border Patrol detained 6,300 people on Friday — the first day since Section 42 expired — and 4,200 on Saturday. This is dramatically lower Over 10,000 in three days last week as migrants flocked there before a new policy to limit asylum came into effect.

“It’s still early,” Mayorkas said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We’re on our third day, but we’ve been planning this transition for months. And we are carrying out our plan. And we will continue to do so.”

Despite fall in recent days, authorities forecast the number of arrests to rise to 12,000 to 14,000 a day, Matthew Hudak, deputy chief of the Border Patrol, said in a court filing Friday. And authorities cannot estimate with certainty how many will cross, Hudak said, noting that intelligence reports failed to quickly identify a “single surge” of 18,000 mostly Haitian migrants in Del Rio, Texas, in September 2021.

More than 27,000 migrants were detained along the border on a single day last week, and that number could exceed 45,000 by the end of May if authorities are unable to release migrants without a warrant to appear in immigration court, Hudak said.

Pandemic-era border policy, Title 42, ends
Immigrants seeking asylum in the U.S., stuck in a makeshift camp between the U.S.-Mexico border walls, gather near a U.S. Border Patrol agent on May 12, 2023 in San Diego, California.

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On Monday, the administration plans to appeal to the appeals court with a request to release the migrants without an order to appear in court. Authorities say it takes 90 minutes to two hours for a single adult to be tried in court — potentially suffocating border detention centers — and longer for families. In contrast, it takes just 20 minutes to release someone with instructions to report to an immigration office in 60 days, a routine practice starting in 2021 to reduce overcrowding along the border.

The Justice Department has even raised the possibility of refusing to detain people if it cannot quickly release migrants, calling it a “worst-case scenario.”

President Joe Biden, spending the weekend at his home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, said he hoped the number of border crossings would “continue to fall” but that “we still have a lot of work to do.”

“We also need additional help from Congress in terms of funding and legislative changes,” Biden told reporters. He said the management of the border situation, however, was going “much better than you all expected.”

The administration is touting new legal avenues to curb illegal crossings, including parole for 30,000 Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans each month who apply online to a financial sponsor and arrive at an airport.

Hundreds of mostly Colombian migrants waited to be processed Saturday in searing heat near Jacumba, Calif., sleeping for days in straw tents east of San Diego and subsisting on limited supplies of biscuits and water from border guards. Some said they crossed the border illegally after trying the app without success or hearing stories of disappointment from others.

Ana Cuna, 27, said she and other Colombians paid $1,300 each to be ferried across the border after reaching Tijuana. She said she touched down on U.S. soil hours before Title 42 expired Thursday, but like others, Border Patrol gave her a number bracelet that two days later had not been processed.

Migrants have been denied asylum more than 2.8 million times under Section 42, the health rule, on the grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19. When it expired, the administration began a policy of denying asylum to people traveling through another country, such as Mexico, to the United States, with few exceptions.

“We want to come legally and be welcomed,” said Cuna, whose straw tent housed Colombian women and families hoping to reach Chicago, San Antonio, Philadelphia and Spartanburg, South Carolina.

Migrants at the US-Mexico border after the end of Title 42
Migrants try to cross the border, but are no longer accepted due to new regulations imposed by the United States government. Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, May 13, 2023.

Cristian Torres Chavez/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The release of migrants without a court order, but with instructions to report to an immigration office in 60 days, became widespread in 2021. Directing that work to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement when migrants show up at the agency’s offices has caused further delays — with ICE offices in New York backed up until 2033 just to schedule a first court appearance.

U.S. District Judge T. Kent Wetherell in Pensacola, Fla., ordered the halt practice in March, which the administration had effectively stopped by then. He decided not to appeal the ruling, but reinstated the policy last week, calling it an emergency response. The state of Florida protested, and Wetherell ordered the administration to avoid quick releases for two weeks. He scheduled a hearing for Friday.

Since CBPOne launched on January 12 for asylum seekers, it has annoyed many with error messages, difficulties taking pictures and the frantic daily ritual of racing fingers across phone screens until slots run out within minutes.

In Tijuana, Munoz looked into being smuggled through the mountains east of San Diego, but decided it would be too expensive. In the mid-2000s, she was haunted by a grueling week-long trek through the Arizona desert. After saving money working two shifts at a supermarket near Los Angeles, she returned to Mexico to raise her children.

Last week, the administration increased the number of slots to 1,000 from the 740 allocated in the application, began prioritizing those who try the longest and released slots gradually throughout the day instead of all at once, which caused a mad rush. So far, Muñoz said she was not convinced.

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