From the Rio Grande Valley in Texas to San Diego and Tijuana, many migrants gathered along sections of the U.S.-Mexico border questioned when or whether they would cross into the United States to seek asylum once pandemic-related restrictions known as Title 42 ended.
Some migrants who had traveled from Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, Peru and Central America feared it could be harder for them to stay on U.S. soil with the restrictions lifted.
Here are some of the stories from along the 1,950-mile (3,140-kilometer) international boundary:
Ludin, a Honduran man who asked that his last name not be used out of fear for his safety and that of his family, arrived Friday at Tijuana’s El Chaparral port of entry with his pregnant wife and 5-year-old son.
He stood just feet from U.S. soil, conflicted over how to proceed.
“Do you think we can cross and ask for asylum?” he asked.
He said he had been trying to use an app that border officials created for people to request asylum in the U.S. — CBP One — every day for weeks, repeatedly uploading his case information and photos including scars on his body from being shot nine times during a 2021 robbery. One large scar snakes down his neck from an operation to remove one of the bullets that struck him.
The app never worked for him, only displaying an error screen or saying no more slots for applicants were available.
Blaine Bookey, an immigration lawyer helping people at the crossing, said U.S. officials were telling asylum-seekers at the port to keep trying the app.
“There seems to be no option right now for people to ask for asylum if they don’t have an appointment through the CBP app,” she said.
Some migrants were arriving at the border after months of travel.
Jesús Bravo and his wife, Jhohan Miperasa, arrived in Matamoros across the border from Brownsville, Texas, with infant twin daughters who were born along the way.
They had left their native Venezuela nine months earlier, crossed the treacherous Darien Gap dividing Colombia and Panama, then stopped in Panama where the girls were born.
On Friday, they stepped off a bus, pushed the babies in a double stroller across the city and headed straight to the banks of the Rio Grande.
“I am tired of the app, they never reply, they never give me an appointment,” said Bravo, 23. “So I have to cross through the river, like everybody else.”
Aylin Guevara, 45, hurried her steps the evening before as she walked through the scorching desert of Ciudad Juarez toward the border.
She was accompanied by her two children, ages 16 and 5, and her husband. The family fled their coastal city in Colombia after receiving death threats, and hoped to seek refuge in the U.S.
After spending the previous night in a hotel, they were eager to get to the border, “to get in and go with the help of God and baby Jesus,” Guevara said.
But when they arrived with just hours to go before the end of Title 42, a U.S. immigration officer said they could not pass.
“Not anymore, it’s over,” he told them in a firm voice, instructing them to go to bridges 10 miles (16 kilometers) to their left or right.
Jose Manuel Bueno was among the last people sent back to Ciudad Juarez late Thursday under Title 42.
The 28-year-old Venezuelan said he didn’t know the exact whereabouts of his pregnant wife and three children, who were in custody in the U.S. Bueno said he was earlier advised to use the app, but he decided it would be better to cross the border and turn himself in.
“They didn’t have to split my family,” Bueno insisted. “I have my children’s birth certificates.”
Bueno set up camp for the night next to a bridge with about a dozen other men after they charged their cellphones from a connection in the street.
“It’s the safest place now,” he said.
Diana Rodas, an elementary school teacher from Colombia, spent the night shivering with her two daughters, ages 7 and 13, sleeping on the ground between two towering border walls dividing San Diego and Tijuana. The girls cried all night.
At about 2 a.m. Friday, U.S. agents took away between 15 and 20 families with children under age 2 who had been among the hundreds sleeping under plastic tarps and blankets.
“We never expected all this,” said Rodas, who fled her homeland after her life was threatened. She feared deportation but wanted to stay optimistic. “Hope is the last thing that goes.”
The hundreds of migrants, mostly families, sat in two dozen rows between the border walls while Border Patrol agents walked by and decided who would be processed.
When some were selected, those left behind cheered.
One woman yelled “Suerte!” or “Good luck!” as those chosen were loaded into a Border Patrol van.
Gloria Inigo of Peru said she hoped she, her husband and their daughters, ages 5 and 8, would be next. They crossed the border Wednesday before the rules changed.
“I have faith,” Inigo said.
Authorities in the remote desert community of Yuma, Arizona, expressed alarm after the average daily number of migrant arrivals grew this week from 300 to 1,000.
Mayor Doug Nicholls asked for the federal government to declare a national disaster so Federal Emergency Management Agency resources and National Guard troops could be rushed to his and other small border communities.
Most migrants are transported to shelters operated by nonprofit organizations farther away from the border, but border officials will release them into communities if enough transportation isn’t available. Nicholls said officials told him they would release 141 people in Yuma County on Friday.
“The question keeps coming up: ‘What now?’ I’ve been asking that question for two years, with no answers,” Nicholls said. “We are at a situation we’ve never been at before.”
Venezuelan Dayana Ybarra and her husband crossed two weeks ago through a gap in the wall near El Paso because they feared it would be much harder after Title 42 expired.
They were apprehended. She was detained for three days and her husband for nine.
On Friday, they were waiting at the Sacred Heart shelter in El Paso hoping to raise the money necessary to get to North Carolina, where she has two brothers and a court date in two months.
The couple left their three children behind.
“It’s because of them” she and her husband decided to take the risk, Ybarra said.
On a stretch of border wall in Tijuana, migrants asked passersby for blankets, food and water as the sun set over a steep hill.
Gerson Aguilera, 41, got to Tijuana around 4 p.m. with his three kids and wife to try to cross and ask for asylum. From Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Aguilera said he and his family fled after organized criminals started demanding he pay twice the extortion money he was already paying of 2,000 Honduran lempira (roughly $81) a week.
“It’s very hard. For a payment, they will kill you,” Aguilera said with tears in his eyes.
The owner of a welding shop, Aguilera said he left his home once before in 2020 because of threats, but returned when things calmed down. That wasn’t an option anymore.
“We ask that God helps us,” Aguilar said.
Associated Press journalists Gerardo Carrillo in Matamoros, Mexico; María Verza in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico; Giovanna Dell’Orto in El Paso, Texas; and Julie Watson and Suman Naishadham in Tijuana, Mexico, contributed to this report. Snow reported from Phoenix.