CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico – The flow of migrants in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez and their attempts to illegally cross the frontier into the United States have increased in the last few weeks since the inauguration of Joe Biden and given that immediate return policies are still in effect for illegal migrants entering the US, local migrant shelters are practically full.
As part of this phenomenon, last Friday at least 47 migrants from different countries crossed the Rio Grande and then turned themselves in to the US Border Patrol while dozens more gave up on their attempt – at least temporarily – when they were accosted by the Mexican National Guard.
Caridad is in this situation after leaving Honduras with her two small daughters and deciding to cross the border to ask Biden’s administration for asylum.
She wants to get her daughters into the US because “in my country I have nothing, I don’t have a house, I don’t have anything,” she told EFE on Tuesday.
After probing along the bank of the Rio Grande, which has very little water at present, Caridad and her daughters found a spot on the border with no military personnel nearby and crossed into the US, intending to turn themselves in to Border Patrol agents and ask for political asylum.
“Where we came from, there’s a lot of poverty,” she said before taking off her shoes and crossing the river. And, just like the trio, dozens more people have decided to seek the American Dream in recent weeks, although immigration authorities consulted by EFE provided no precise figures for recent crossings or captures.
Official figures provided to EFE, however, do show that in 2020 there were 2,132 foreigners who appeared before immigration authorities in Mexico’s Chihuahua state.
Among the first moves made by Biden just hours after he began his presidency was freezing the construction of the controversial border wall with Mexico, safeguarding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program benefiting undocumented young people who were brought to the US illegally as little children and including undocumented migrants in the US Census count.
Biden also announced the definitive suppression of the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) – known as the “Remain in Mexico” program – obligating people requesting refugee status in the US to remain in Mexico while their cases are considered.
Nevertheless, Enrique Valenzuela, the general coordinator of the State Population Council (COESPO) in Chihuahua, noted that the new policy has not prevented US authorities from returning many migrants to Mexico under Title 42.
“Title 42 remains in effect, and it has nothing to do with migration policy but rather with health policy,” he said.
During Republican President Donald Trump’s administration, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in March 2020 issued Title 42 as part of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This measure says that the Customs and Border Protection department may summarily return migrants to Mexico if they have entered the US illegally or by some irregular means without giving them the opportunity to request asylum or protection under US law.
“Now is not the best time to start the trip and to arrive at the border with the aim of entering the US,” Valenzuela said.
According to official figures, the US repatriated a total of 184,423 Mexicans in 2020.
Of those, 13,471 were deported via border crossing points in Chihuahua.
Because of the unending migrant flow northwards through Chihuahua, Ciudad Juarez now has 16 migrant shelters that can house about 1,000 people.
The Pan de Vida shelter has a number of houses painted blue and white by the migrants themselves. There’s also a big yard with swings and other playground contraptions for kids.
Ismael Martinez, who is in charge of the shelter that currently houses about 150 people, including six pregnant women, said that the recent increase in migration is due to the new US policies under Biden.
“Many migrants come with false hopes and believe that upon crossing the border the US authorities will let them stay there,” the activist said, urging all migrants to have a “Plan B” if they are unable to get into and remain in the US.
Most of the people in the shelters are young – between ages 18 and 23 – and have been harmed mentally or physically during their northward journey or while making the border crossing.
The “coyotes” who guide the migrants over the border charge them between $4,000 and $5,000 each for their services and, if their crossing attempt is unsuccessful, the migrants often find themselves in Ciudad Juarez completely broke.
Amid the pandemic, along with the “normal” dangers of the trek and the crossing, there’s also the danger of becoming infected with COVID-19. In fact, there are shelters that have been partially or fully dedicated to housing confirmed or suspected COVID cases.
One of the people staying at Pan de Vida is Fatima, a 32-year-old Salvadoran whose journey to Ciudad Juarez was a dangerous odyssey.
She traveled in a bus or an autostop vehicle with her husband and small children. Clearly distressed, she explained that she still remembers the gnawing hunger they experienced on the trip.
They arrived in Ciudad Juarez almost two years ago, and initially they were kidnapped there, and that is why she said that she still lives “in fear.”
Regarding the new wave of migrants, Fatima lamented the fact that the new arrivals don’t know the law and the difficulties that await them in trying to enter the US.
She, after years of waiting and arduous work, hopes to settle her immigration situation and legally enter the US in November, after a court hearing that will evaluate her and her family’s case.
Like Caridad and Fatima, here in the shelters in this dry and rather bleak city in northern Mexico, the recent arrivals with their unrealized and perhaps unrealistic dreams mix with the “veterans” in the difficult art of surviving the dangers of migration, their precarious economic situation and the current health crisis.