Inside the border encampments where migrants await their chance to enter U.S.

It's been a few weeks since the end of a controversial pandemic-era immigration policy restricting asylum and swiftly turning away migrants at the southern border. While the number of border crossings has dropped since the policy was lifted, it has left countless migrants stuck in Mexico awaiting court dates and processing amidst harrowing conditions. Amna Nawaz reports.

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  • Geoff Bennett:

    Welcome to the "NewsHour."

    Republicans and the White House are closer to an agreement on the debt ceiling. But there's still no deal tonight as lawmakers get ready to leave Washington for the Memorial Day weekend. We will have the latest on the negotiations in a moment, but to first changes in U.S. immigration policy.

    Amna Nawaz is in Brownsville, Texas, at the U.S.-Mexico border, where she's been speaking with migrants trying to navigate the new rules for asylum seekers.

    Amna, there are lots of questions about what the end of Title 42 means. But what does it look like down at the border where you are tonight?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Geoff, as you will remember, it's now been two weeks since Title 42 ended. That was the pandemic era policy that allowed U.S. officials to immediately expel anyone arriving at the U.S. Southern border.

    And in the weeks before that ended, we'd already seen a huge increase in the numbers of people arriving at the U.S. Southern border. Everyone we talked to then, U.S. officials and immigration attorneys and nonprofits, they were all preparing for even bigger numbers, for a bigger surge after Title 42 ended. It didn't happen.

    The numbers actually went down. And the big question was why. Well, we found out why today. When we crossed into Mexico and we spoke with people waiting on the Mexican side of the border, there is now a huge backup there, people from Venezuela and Honduras and Colombia and further afield, who say they are now going to wait because of the rule changes that U.S. officials have implemented.

    They know now that the message the U.S. officials have been trying to get across for months now saying the border is not open, saying that if you try to enter without permission, you could be banned from entry, saying you can't enter without an appointment with a U.S. border official, they have heard that message loud and clear.

    They tell us that they are going to wait. That is why the numbers have gone down — Geoff.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    So, what's that experience like for those migrants who are waiting?

    Tell us about some of the people that you spoke with.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    No, waiting for them is tenuous and it is stressful. And it's often dangerous as well.

    We crossed into the town of Matamoros, which is on the other side of the border from Brownsville here. And as soon as we crossed the bridge, we were greeted by a huge crowd of people who have basically been gathering at the foot of that bridge every single morning, trying to get answers to those questions.

    There are some immigration groups. There are some refugee groups there. And, more importantly, there are some volunteer U.S. attorneys, immigration attorneys, who cross the bridge every day and try to get some of those migrants answers to their questions.

    There's a lot of confusion about what exactly the rules are, in terms of who is allowed entry to the United States and, Geoff, most acutely, questions around this CBP One app. That's an app created by the Customs and Border Protection in which migrants are asked to make an appointment to then appear and make their case for asylum.

    Those appointments are highly coveted. They are very limited. And supply doesn't nearly meet demand. We actually spoke to one gentleman named Carlos who's from Honduras. He took out his phone in frustration to show me how many times he's been logging on to the app, submitting his application, trying to do things the legal way, and he has yet to get an appointment.

    He's been doing this every single day for the last three months. More — the people we talk to here basically say the longer that migrants are forced to wait, the more vulnerable they become. There are already rampant reports of extortion and kidnapping and sexual assault.

    We spoke to one woman named Duglias (ph) from Venezuela. She's here with her two teenage daughters. She won't even take them to go sleep in the migrant camp nearby because she's so afraid that they will be assaulted. So, Geoff, every night for the last month, they have been here. They have been sleeping out in the open at the bus station.

    And she has no idea when they will be allowed to make their case to U.S. officials — Geoff.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    And, Amna, I know that you and the team there visited one of the migrant encampments. What were the conditions like?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    No, in a word, absolutely appalling. They are unsanitary. They are dangerous.

    And all of this is unfolding just a few minutes away from the U.S. border. We visited one of these camps where there's about 2,500 people or so that we're told, and this isn't even the biggest camp, sources told us, here in Matamoros. These are sprawling, temporary tarp tent and blanket hut camps that have popped up and sources tell us really grown in size since Title 42 ended, because people are now deciding to stay here and wait, but there aren't resources to support them.

    There's no sanitation. There's no running water. We saw that there — sources tell us that there is rampant COVID and tuberculosis and dengue and waterborne illnesses. That's why we were masking the entire time we were there as well, just dozens and dozens and dozens of families and children. And I will tell you this is no place for children waiting, waiting for their chance, 90-degree heat every day, to try and make their case to U.S. officials.

    And, right now, they don't know when that's going to be. So, Geoff, we're seeing there's not a crisis that we expected at the U.S. border necessarily, but there's definitely one unfolding just a few hundred yards away — Geoff.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Amna Nawaz in Brownsville, Texas, tonight.

    Amna, we look forward to more of your reporting on the broadcast tomorrow. It's good to see you.

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