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There are protests along the U.S.-Mexico border after judge blocks ending Title 42

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Along the U.S.-Mexico border, protesters are speaking out after a federal judge blocked President Biden's attempt to end the imposition of Title 42. That's a public health measure President Trump used to turn away asylum-seekers when coronavirus cases were high. And it is still U.S. policy. NPR's Kirk Siegler reports from Nogales, Mexico.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: In Nogales, in the Mexican state of Sonora, a couple hundred migrants, mostly women and young children, are crowded into a small plaza just a few hundred feet away from the U.S. port of entry.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting in non-English language).

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in non-English language).

SIEGLER: Signs in Spanish and English read 500 days waiting and Title 42 is racist. People had hoped that order would be lifted Monday, as the Biden administration had planned, so they could finally apply for asylum in the United States.

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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Singing in non-English language).

SIEGLER: A 24-year-old woman named Betzaida (ph) doesn't want to give her last name because she says she's escaping cartel violence in southern Mexico. After a harrowing trip, she and her three young kids have been living here in Nogales for the past 10 months.

BETZAIDA: (Non-English language spoken).

SIEGLER: "I'm not looking for the American dream," she says. "We just want to be safe." She has family in Las Vegas she's trying to get to. That's unlikely to happen now after Arizona and two other Republican states sued to keep Title 42 in place and a federal judge agreed. This protest's organizers want more compassion from the U.S. side of the border. Pedro De Velasco is with the Nogales-based Kino Border Initiative.

PEDRO DE VELASCO: It's not true what you're listening to all around the United States, that there are hundreds of thousands of people waiting here, you know? There are a couple of hundreds, perhaps, that are waiting. And that they have been waiting for months and months.

SIEGLER: It is pretty quiet here. But after two years of Title 42 closures and a lot of global upheaval, there is a backlog of people seeking asylum on the southwestern border. Yuma, Ariz., is one of the busiest places for migrant apprehensions right now in a state with a long history of polarizing immigration battles. Mayor Douglas Nicholls says when the Biden administration moved to drop Title 42, it didn't have a clear plan for how to deal with the surge in humanitarian need. He told member station KJZZ that small cities and towns could again be overwhelmed.

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DOUGLAS NICHOLLS: As we know, watching immigration over the decades, that when there's news that appears to open up a border, there's large movements of people.

SIEGLER: In Nogales, Ariz., a frustrated Santa Cruz County sheriff David Hathaway says Title 42 needs to end. He says calling it a public health tool is dishonest.

DAVID HATHAWAY: It's just kind of saying a way to never adjudicate something. Like the Guantanamo Bay thing - let's stick people in there, and then we never have to deal with them. It's a way to never adjudicate the issue.

SIEGLER: Title 42 or not, there's no indication that desperate people will stop trying to illegally enter the U.S. For now, Betzaida, who's protesting, is planning to stay here in Sonora, even though it's hard to find work or an affordable apartment. She says it's too dangerous to hire a smuggler to cross this rugged desert. But she doesn't fault those who do.

BETZAIDA: (Non-English language spoken).

SIEGLER: We are not a virus, she says. Our government put us in this situation. We're just desperate.

Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Nogales.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHALE FALL'S "THE APARTMENT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.