A framed image of the patron saint of Mexico hangs above the altar of the San Juan Bosco migrant shelter in Nogales, Sonora. The young migrant was wearing a bright blue Sonic the Hedgehog T-shirt and was holding a phone in front of a group of asylum seekers.
More than 25 migrants, many from Venezuela, sat in the church’s worn green cloth chairs as they called on loved ones and rummaged through bags wrapped in pieces of government-issued plastic.
A handful of deported asylum seekers were dropped off at the shelter on Thursday afternoon, hours before Title 42 was lifted.
Within hours, border restrictions that had halted migrant congregations and put thousands at risk would be lifted.
Many of the people sitting in the church were among the last evictions of the Title 42 era.
Over three years, the ban was used to quickly turn away migrants more than 2.8 million times. Title 42 officially ended Thursday night at 8:59 p.m.
The end of the public health order was greeted with little fanfare and the US-Mexico border had mostly empty ports of entry. There was not a massive influx of migrants to the country’s southern border, as many Arizona officials had feared and maintained.
The lasting effects of the policy’s demise may not be felt for days and weeks to come.
A few steps away from the boy, three Venezuelan women sat together, arm in arm on each other’s chairs. The women wore solemn expressions as they recalled the painful journey that had brought them together.
The women were deported to Mexico on Wednesday morning after being held in an immigration detention center for five days, where they said they experienced “inhumane” conditions. He had attempted to cross into the United States through Matamoros, Mexico, reporting to Border Patrol agents and requesting asylum.
“It’s not only what happened in immigration, but it’s also what we’re pulling out of Venezuela,” said Velska Araujo, one of the three women.
“We have passed through more than four countries, five countries have faced abuse, even from our own neighbors.”
Psychological torture women detail “inhumane” detention conditions
The women were separated from their families before being deported by Nogales. She said Araujo was separated from her mother, siblings and cousins after agents took them into custody.
Women are not alone.
Many migrants, many of them from Venezuela, have recently lamented the separation from their partners and children. Often authorities separate them because they are not married or their children are not biologically theirs, even if they have been raised.
According to Chelsea Sachau, managing attorney for the Florence Immigrant Rights Project’s Border Action Team and refugees, the separation comes from the Prison Rape Elimination Act, which aims to prevent and prevent incidents of sexual misconduct in detention centers.
He said the women were subjected to “freezing conditions” at the detention center where they were kept. The women repeatedly asked the guard to lower the temperature of the cooling air, but the guard threatened to turn it on when she screamed.
“They said if we made noise, they would increase the wind,” Araujo said.
The first night Araujo was detained, she said officers made her sleep on the ground in the open air all night while they waited for the bus that would take them to the detention center. They only gave him a thermal blanket to keep him warm.
By his count, the women had been handcuffed at the hands, waist and feet for more than 15 hours as they were taken by bus and plane to Nogales.
“We also have rights and it was a kind of psychological torture,” said Giovanna Vaquero Escalona, another Venezuelan delesca.
He said that a detention guard forced Escalona to throw away the T-shirt he was wearing, which had a picture of the United States flag on it. A man had given it to Escalona via Mexico.
Escalona said, “Why can’t I ask (the guard) because he could have been angry or something could have happened to me.”
The women crossed the Darien Pass on their way to the border. Darién is one of the world’s most dangerous immigration routes connecting Panama and Colombia, where migrants have to travel treacherous paths through jungle and mountains, facing thieves, hunger, deadly animals and disease.
The women witnessed a pair of Haitian migrants drown in a river while making their way through the jungle. She said that other women in her close group were robbed and raped while crossing the Darien.
She said the women preferred the perilous trek to their experience in an immigration detention center.
“We like what happened in immigration,” Araújo said. “We like it because at least one is in control.”
Venezuelan migrants await appointments after Title 42 sunset
Castillo sat on a yellow metal bench, paint peeling and soaking in the sunlight, just steps away from the Dennis DeConcini Port of Entry in Nogales, Sonora.
Castillo sat with three other Venezuelan immigrants who were waiting for their scheduled appointment with CBP One, more than three hours away. The four migrants will be some of the first to be processed for citations after Title 42 is lifted.
The wheels of national politics were turning, and the group would soon be subject to new rules and procedures.
But for now, they waited.
“I feel happy and satisfied because I am going to be with my family,” Castillo said. “The experience is very difficult, but you have to fight, you have to fight for the good of the family.”
Castillo illegally crossed the border into Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, after living in the city for about three months. Castillo, his wife and their two children, ages 7 and 9, were detained by the Border Patrol before Castillo was separated from his family and deported to Tijuana, they said.
His wife and children entered the country on parole.
Castillo remained in Tijuana for about 20 days before he was able to book an appointment with CBP One in Nogales for Friday. Castillo and his friend were traveling in a large group after crossing the Darien Pass.
It took Castillo nine days to cross the Darien.
Castillo said, “If you get sick out there, you stay because how do you get out of there?”
“Suddenly you come out of the jungle. Well, the other jungle is Mexico.”
Venezuelan migrants have said they prefer the deadly Darien Pass to travel through Mexico, where they are often robbed, kidnapped or abducted. Castillo and his traveling companions were now the only ones in the group that had not yet reached the Americas, he said.
While waiting for his turn, Castillo urged his fellow immigrants to be patient and request a meetup through the CBP One app.
Castillo said, “We are happy because we got the appointment and I hope that God will pass us there.”
When Castillo finished speaking, he sat back down on a sun-drenched bench. The group of friends chatted and laughed as the minutes passed until their appointment.
Title 42 was over. His path to refuge had just begun.