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Migrants seeking asylum in the US look through the border wall as volunteers offer assistance on the other side on Saturday in San Diego.
CNN  — 

The expiration of a Covid-related border restriction policy known as Title 42 has so far brought fewer migrant arrivals than expected, but southern border communities still worry about overcrowded migrant processing and detention facilities.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Sunday the number of migrants at the US southern border “are markedly down over what they were prior to the end of Title 42.”

Title 42, a controversial Trump-era policy from the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, allowed authorities to swiftly turn away migrants encountered at the US-Mexico border. The policy ended Thursday night along with the national coronavirus public health emergency.

The mayor of Laredo, Texas, told CNN’s Jim Acosta that even though the number of people coming in may be lower than what federal officials were bracing for, his community is still on “high alert.”

“The unfortunate reality is that we were already at near capacity in our hospitals before Title 42 expired and without a pediatric intensive care unit,” Mayor Victor Treviño, who is a physician, said. “We wouldn’t be able to care for some of the arriving children and family groups.”

His community received about 700 migrants on Saturday, the mayor said.

“We’re still on high alert because Brownsville and El Paso still have a high number there with them so we have to be cognizant of that,” he added.

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Migrants cross the Rio Bravo to return to Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, on Saturday, May 13, as members of the Texas National Guard extend razor wire at the border.
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Alison, a 6-year-old migrant from Honduras, stands with her mother while they wait to be transported to a US Border Patrol processing facility in La Joya, Texas, on May 13.
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US Border Patrol agents watch over migrants waiting to take a bus to a processing center in Fronton, Texas, on Friday, May 12. The migrants had turned themselves in after crossing from Mexico.
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A group of men from El Salvador are detained by US Border Patrol agents after crossing the border near Sunland Park, New Mexico, on May 12.
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Migrants waiting to apply for asylum near San Diego reach through a border wall for clothing handed out by volunteers on May 12.
Todd Heisler/The New York Times/Redux
A US Border Patrol agent searches a man from Mexico who crossed the border illegally near Sunland Park on May 12.
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Ligia Garcia and her husband, Robert Castellon, walk with their children to buy food after they were processed by US border officials in McAllen, Texas, on May 12.
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Paula, a woman from Guatemala, holds her daughter as she asks US border officials about the new asylum rules at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, between San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico, on Thursday, May 11.
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Migrants in Matamoros, Mexico, gather on the banks of the Rio Grande as they get ready to cross the border to turn themselves in on May 11.
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Merejido Del Orbe, who came to the United States from the Dominican Republic, rests at Annunciation House, a shelter in El Paso, Texas, on May 11. He broke his leg when he slipped from a rope while climbing a border fence in April.
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Texas National Guard soldiers place more razor wire on the banks of the Rio Grande in Matamoros on May 11.
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Migrants from Peru react after crossing the border in Yuma, Arizona, just a few minutes before the lifting of Title 42 on May 11.
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As the sun sets on May 11, migrants wait to be processed by US Border Patrol agents across the border from El Paso.
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Migrants released by US border officials are seen at a cell phone charging station at the Regional Center for Border Health in Somerton, Arizona, on May 11.
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Migrants surrender to the US Border Patrol in Yuma on May 11.
Adriana Zehbrauskas/The New York Times/Redux
Erick Torres and his son Benjamin, migrants from Peru, wait to be processed by US Border Patrol agents in Yuma on May 11.
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Migrants climb onto an air mattress in Matamoros to prepare to cross the Rio Grande toward Brownsville, Texas, on May 11.
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Migrants board a bus after surrendering to US Border Patrol agents in Yuma on May 11.
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A US Border Patrol agent looks on as migrants wait to apply for asylum near San Diego on May 11.
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Norma Garcia Bonilla, from Michoacán, Mexico, waits at Albergue del Desierto, a migrant shelter in Mexicali, Mexico, across from the California border, on Wednesday, May 10. She is seeking asylum in the United States.
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Hundreds of migrants in Ciudad Juárez wait to cross into the United States on May 10.
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Migrants carry a baby in a suitcase across the Rio Grande on May 10.
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A migrant tears up behind a border wall near San Diego on May 10.
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Members of the Texas National Guard are deployed to an area of high migrant crossings in Brownsville on May 10.
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Wendy Velasquez and her 21-month-old daughter, Starley Dominguez Velasquez, have been living for five months at the Albergue del Desierto migrant shelter in Mexicali. They came from Honduras to apply for asylum in the United States.
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Migrants wait to get paid after washing cars at a gas station in Brownsville on May 10. They had arrived the day before from Mexico.
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Migrants surrender to US Border Patrol agents after crossing the border in Yuma on May 10.
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Migrants cross the Rio Grande from Matamoros on May 10.
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Migrants gather between primary and secondary border fences near San Diego on May 10.
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Migrants stand in line as they wait to be processed by US Border Patrol agents in Brownsville on May 10.
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A migrant climbs over a border wall separating Tijuana from the United States after fetching groceries for other migrants who were waiting to be processed by US authorities on May 10.
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A heart-shaped keychain with a photo of Salvadoran migrant Danilo Ruiz and his family hangs from a handbag at a makeshift shelter in Reynosa, Mexico, on Tuesday, May 9.
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Migrant families cross into El Paso from Mexico on May 8.
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A US Border Patrol agent watches over migrants who had gathered in San Diego on May 8.
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A woman is helped off a freight train after she became too scared to climb down from the roof on May 7. Migrants have been traveling on top of freight trains as they headed north from southern Mexico. The woman's son, Leonardo Luzardo, told CNN it had been a long, cold night atop the train, feeling like their bodies were turning to ice. "It seemed like we were going to freeze," he said.
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Migrants who were trying to evade US Border Patrol agents wait to be processed in Granjeno, Texas, on May 4.
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Children play soccer at a shelter in Tijuana on May 3. Their families were awaiting the end of Title 42.
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Migrants camp out in an alley behind the Sacred Heart Church in downtown El Paso on April 30.
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Migrants wait to be processed by US Border Patrol agents in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, on April 26.

Officials had warned the end of Title 42 could result in a migrant surge that would exacerbate an already challenging humanitarian crisis at the southern border. Federal and local authorities prepared for an influx, with thousands of personnel from federal agencies dispatched to the border to support local authorities.

Authorities had projected migrant encounters to surge to an average of 2,000-14,000 a day, said one official, Matthew J. Hudak, deputy chief of the US Border Patrol.

“It’s not the numbers we initially expected, and we hope it keeps that way,” said Mayor Javier Villalobos of McAllen, which sits along the US-Mexico border in South Texas.

In El Paso – which has seen hundreds of migrants sleeping on sidewalks after a recent spike in arrivals – Mayor Oscar Leeser said the city has so far seen a “smooth transition” out of Title 42 but is still preparing for what the future may hold.

“We know that we still need to prepare for the unknown because we don’t know what’s going to happen next week and continue to happen day in and day out,” Lesser said.

His community is currently getting the resources it needs from the state and federal government, he said on “Face the Nation” on Sunday.

“We all know the immigration process is broken, there’s no ifs and buts about it, but we are getting the resources that we need because our city and the southern border couldn’t do it without federal aid,” Leeser said.

While border officials did not see a substantial influx of migrants Friday, US authorities warn that detention facilities could still become dangerously overcrowded. As of Friday afternoon, about 23,400 migrants were in Border Patrol custody, slightly lower than earlier in the week, according to a Homeland Security official.

What the migrants say

Many who head to the US make long and dangerous journeys in hopes of finding better, safer lives. Experts say migrants could be fleeing violence, immigrating for economic opportunities or to reunite with family members.

Thousands of migrants for weeks took refuge around El Paso’s Sacred Heart Church ahead of the expiration of Title 42. Father Rafael Garcia, the pastor at the church, said the numbers of migrants have dwindled in the past few days.

“The numbers have really gone down,” Garcia told CNN’s Jim Acosta on Saturday. “I don’t have answers, but the fact is around our church and even within our shelter, our numbers have gone down and we’re taking it day by day. “

The majority of migrants his church has encountered recently had traveled from Venezuela, where some described struggling to survive on the equivalent of $5 to $10 a month, the pastor said.

“It’s not an easy decision for them to come, but they all believe they cannot survive back home,” he added. “Their desire, typically from everybody, they say ‘I want to work. I want to be able to start a new life. I want to send money back to family still in Venezuela.’ That’s pretty much the common theme.”

Migrants arriving at the El Paso church also describe a dangerous journey to get there, Garcia said.

“Some have been kidnapped, some have been harassed in different ways,” he said.

Those arriving at his church include injured people who need emergency care, Garcia said, as well as pregnant mothers in their third trimester of pregnancy, who have made the arduous trek through Mexico for a chance to immigrate to the US.

“It’s a real crisis. It’s a real human crisis,” he said.

“To do this, it must be a real serious need to say, ‘I have to leave my country. I can no longer be there,’” the pastor said. “That has to be taken into account.”

Those who make it to a border checkpoint arrive not knowing whether they will qualify for asylum or be sent back to Mexico or their home countries.

What happens next

With Title 42 now expired, US authorities are leaning more on Title 8, a decades-old protocol for asylum seekers which could carry lengthier processing times and more severe consequences for those crossing unlawfully.

The federal plan was dealt a setback Thursday when a federal judge in Florida temporarily blocked the Biden administration from releasing migrants from Border Patrol without court notices. The ruling impedes a key administration tool for managing the number of migrants in US custody.

Hudak warned in the filing that without measures to conditionally release some migrants, Border Patrol could have over 45,000 migrants in custody by the end of the month.

“Noncitizens held in overcrowded facilities are not only vulnerable to communicable diseases, but this vulnerability is likely to be compounded by some aspects of the noncitizens’ journey including poor health and nutrition, lack of access to health care, and/or inadequate water, sanitation, and hygiene services while migrating to the Southwest border,” the filing says.

CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez, Paradise Afshar, Elizabeth Wolfe, Ray Sanchez and Homero De la Fuente contributed to this report.