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2 miles of border fencing installed in El Paso area as migrants surge around Texas amid Title 42 limbo

CIUDAD JUAREZ, MEXICO - DECEMBER 21: Texas National Guard troops unroll coils of concertina wire near the U.S.-Mexico border on December 21, 2022 as seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered 400 troops to the U.S.-Mexico border at El Paso, which is under a state of emergency due to a surge of migrants crossing from Mexico into the city. Border officials expect an even larger migrant surge at the border if the pandemic era Title 42 regulation is lifted. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

(CNN) — Since the first length of fencing went up last week along the Mexican border near El Paso, the Texas National Guard has installed over two miles of the barricade and is expected to build more, an agency spokesperson told CNN on Monday.

Still, just across the boundary, dozens of migrants lined up Monday in Ciudad Juárez to turn themselves in to US border authorities. Some had watched the fence construction over the weekend, they told CNN.

They’re part of a recent flood of tens of thousands of migrants along the US-Mexican border — many, including children, living on the street or in tents amid freezing temperatures — hopeful the Trump-era Title 42 policy will be lifted soon.

The 2020 order that allows authorities to swiftly expel most migrants at the border was launched to curb the spread of Covid-19, officials at the time said. But the future of the policy, which had been due to end December 21, is uncertain.

After an emergency request from 19 Republican-led states, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts on December 19 put a temporary hold on Title 42’s termination, leaving it in effect until the court issues an order, which could happen at any time.

Even as the policy remains in limbo, though, El Paso has been overwhelmed by thousands of new migrants, many who lost patience or got desperate and turned themselves into immigration authorities or simply entered the United States illegally, advocates and officials have told CNN.

“Given the uncertainty, many decided to leave” Mexico and head unlawfully into the United States, the director of the Hope Center shelter in Ciudad Juárez, Elias Rodríguez, told CNN on Monday.

And so on both sides of the border, shelters are overwhelmed with people who’ve made the long and treacherous journey to flee poverty and violence in their home countries and seek asylum in the US.

And their numbers are only expected to grow.

‘They feel desperate’

In El Paso, a state of emergency declared in anticipation of the lifting of Title 42 lets facilities like schools be used to shelter migrants. The Texas city also set up about 1,000 beds in its convention center, which housed more than 480 migrants overnight on Christmas Eve and 420 on Christmas Day, city spokesperson Laura Cruz-Acosta confirmed to CNN.

In Mexico, at least 22,000 migrants are sleeping in shelters, on the streets and in makeshift encampments across the border cities of Tijuana, Reynosa and Matamoros, city officials and advocates told CNN on Monday.

Some 8,000 migrants are in Reynosa, according to Pastor Hector Silva, who runs prominent shelters in the area near Hidalgo, Texas.

Southeast of Brownsville, Texas, the number of migrants in Matamoros has swelled over the past week to some 5,000 from about 2,000, according to Glady Edith Cañas, who runs the non-profit Ayudandoles a Triunfar. Some — mostly Venezuelans — are living in a large encampment crowded with tarp-covered tents held up by clotheslines.

Conditions in the camp as dire, migrants have told CNN. Some families have been waiting there for weeks. People sleep under tents, unsure where their next meal will come from. Temperatures dipped below freezing over the holiday weekend.

Many, including mothers and sick children, are living on the streets, in abandoned homes and on sidewalks as they wait.

“They feel desperate,” Cañas said.

Some migrants crossed the Rio Grande last week in inflatable rafts from Matamoros to Brownsville while a large presence of federal and state law enforcement watched from US riverbanks, CNN drone footage shows.

Near San Diego, about 9,000 migrants in Tijuana are living in shelters, homes and other places, said Enrique Lucero, the Mexican city’s director of migrant affairs. Roughly 60% of the migrants are displaced Mexicans, while the rest are from Haiti, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Venezuela, he said.

In Ciudad Juárez, it’s unclear how many migrants are waiting in the area’s 23 shelters and in an encampment near the Rio Grande, said Santiago Gonzàlez Reyes, head of the city’s human rights division.

“It’s difficult to have a concrete figure given that we are a transit city; many migrants arrive by air, land, cars and buses,” Gonzàlez Reyes told CNN. “We wouldn’t know exactly how many migrants are in Juárez right now.”