Migrants Think Biden’s Border Rule Change Is ‘Too Good to Be True’

And they're right.

Apr 4 2022, 3:41pm

REYNOSA, Mexico — A 2-1/2 year old boy dragged an oversized suitcase along the sidewalk excitedly, on the edge of a cramped migrant encampment straddling the U.S.-Mexico border. Every few seconds, he looked behind him to make sure his parents were still there. But the boy wasn’t going anywhere, and the suitcase was empty, much like the yearned-for promise of being finally allowed to enter the United States. The boy, born in Brazil, and his parents, from Haiti, have spent five months living in a tent just feet from the U.S. border.

“We will stay here until we can go to the other side,” the boy’s father said.

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On April 1, the Biden administration announced that on May 23, it will rescind Title 42, the pandemic-era, public-health policy that allowed for the automatic expulsion of more than a million migrants to Mexico and other countries. The policy is why the little boy and his parents hadn’t sought asylum. They’re scared that if they crossed into the U.S. and asked for protection, they’ll be deported to Haiti. They instead opted to wait in Reynosa, despite its reputation as one of Mexico’s most dangerous cities.

The repeal of the Trump-era rule is expected to trigger an influx of migrants to the U.S.-Mexico border. Already, around 2,500 people are living in the public plaza here at the edge of the border, their tents packed together so tightly there’s barely room to walk. While the policy change won’t take effect for a month and a half, the response on both sides of the international line couldn’t be more different. 

In the U.S., officials are busy expanding border facilities and sending more personnel to staff emergency operations. In Mexico meanwhile, most of the tens of thousands of asylum seekers who’ve been waiting for months to cross legally at a port of entry have received no information from authorities and seem completely in the dark about what’s to come. There are no guidelines for who gets to enter first, nor instructions about when and where to cross, or even a line to sign up for.  

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Compounding the confusion, many of the migrants have no idea why they were denied entry to the U.S to request asylum in the first place. They have only the vaguest notion of Title 42, and what its repeal could mean for them. The information they have largely comes via word of mouth, which human smugglers frequently spin to sell their services.

But migrants may be headed towards disappointment as Title 42 winds down and another restrictive immigration policy is likely ramped up.

Jacki, a Honduran woman who has spent six months in the encampment with her four-year-old daughter, learned of Title 42’s end through a reporter (not this one). Jacki and the other migrants interviewed for this story declined to provide their last names. “We are all excited… but… I don’t know,” Jacki said. “It’s too good to be true.”

She may be right. Department of Homeland Security officials said that in the wake of winding down Title 42, it will increase its use of the policy known as Migrant Protection Protocols, or “Remain in Mexico,” which requires asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their cases are decided. It’s possible that asylum seekers stranded in some of Mexico’s most dangerous border cities by Title 42 could finally enter the U.S. and ask for protection, only to be returned to Mexico under Remain in Mexico.

The Biden administration has also expanded “Remain in Mexico” to include Haitians, who make up the fastest-growing group of migrants in Reynosa. Even with Title 42 gone, gaining legal entry into the U.S. is uncertain at best.

For migrants, U.S. immigration policy can feel like a game of whack-a-mole. From Feb. 2021 to Dec. 2021, during Biden’s first year in office, immigration agents allowed roughly 29 percent of migrants encountered at the southern border to enter the U.S. and plead their case before an immigration judge, according to the American Immigration Council, which advocates on behalf of migrants. The rest were summarily expelled under Title 42 to Mexico or another country, or sent to ICE detention..

One Haitian man told VICE World News that he tried to enter the U.S. in September from Ciudad Acuña with his girlfriend and daughter. He said they were allowed in to pursue their asylum claims, but he was “expelled” to Haiti under Title 42. He wasn’t given a reason why, he said. Now, six months later, he had made his way back to northern Mexico in hopes of reuniting with his family. As a single man, his chances of being let into the U.S. are slim.

These days, migrants being allowed in are mostly Ukrainians and those with medical emergencies. Someone who has lost a limb generally doesn’t qualify, but someone who is at risk of losing a limb does. So did a boy with leukemia and an eight-month pregnant woman who needed a C-section. Asylum seekers who have been kidnapped, tortured or raped aren’t considered medical emergencies.

Still, people from all over the world are arriving in Reynosa in hopes of entering the U.S..

“I have been here four years and never seen this many people,” said Brendon Tucker, Reynosa’s project manager with Global Response Management, which provides medical services to migrants. “Everyone here legitimately believes they have an asylum claim. Their trauma is real. The things they are fleeing are real. And they think the U.S. government will believe that everything they say is true.” 

Tucker said the encampment in the public plaza has grown from around 200 people a year ago to 2,500, around a third of them children. The city’s main shelter, Senda de Vida, has some 1,500 people, and is in the process of covering an open air field with granite rocks where another 3,500 people living in tents can stay.

The vast majority of those arriving are Haitian and Central Americans, but also a growing number of Europeans. On Thursday, Global Response Management attended to a Russian brother and sister and a family of five from Kazakhstan. 

“We have been on the road three months. We came here by accident. We didn’t know about this place,” Orken, the father, typed into google translate in Kazakh. “We traveled through Moscow, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala.”

When he and family, including a ten month old baby, made it to the U.S. border and asked for political asylum, U.S. immigration agents denied them and instead directed them to the migrant shelter in Reynosa, he said. They had no idea what policy they had been rejected under and no idea when they might be let into the U.S.

As they sat for a medical check-up, their passports safeguarded in a ziplock plastic bag, he and wife exchanged messages using google translate with the medics. The dad had a fractured right ankle. Their four-year-old son had a perforated eardrum. The mother had a respiratory infection.

For now, Title 42 is still very much in play. On Friday, the same day the Biden administration announced it would be repealing the policy, immigration agents expelled at least 40 migrants to Reynosa, a criminal hotspot and the scene of bloody shootouts.

José, 30, said it was his fifth attempt crossing into the U.S. in the last month. He wants to make it to the U.S. to send back money to his wife and two children. But every time he stepped foot on U.S. territory, Border Patrol agents found him and expelled him to Mexico. This last time, they dumped him in Reynosa at 1 a.m., he said. He had never heard of Title 42.  

He said Border Patrol agents joke with the migrants they catch. “Keep on coming. Bring your cousins, your friends,” he said the agents tell him and the other migrants. “Don't leave us without work.”

Tagged:

immigration, world politics, Reynosa, worldnews

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