CIUDAD JUAREZ (Mexico) — At the mention of the Biden administration lifting a ban that expelled people from the border, more than 12 migrants ran outside their Good Samaritan shelter.
They quizzed a reporter they’d overheard speak of the expected change in a rule that for the past two years has forced asylum seekers to wait at shelters in in Mexican border cities terrorized by organized crime.
Sometimes the waiting seems interminable. The wait can seem interminable. They are unable to find work and worry about the debts they have accumulated just to cross the border. And, of course, fear for their kids. Drug cartels will try to seize them or take the children.
Migrants have been expelled more than 1.7 million times from the U.S. under public health powers invoked in March 2020 that are designed to prevent spread of Covid-19. The Biden administration plans to lift Title 42 authority – named for a 1944 public health law – by May 23, according to people familiar with the matter, with an official announcement expected as early as Friday. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention extended the order for the week at the peak of the omicron variant’s outbreak in January.
The reaction at Ciudad Juarez’s migrant shelters shows that many migrants are determined to move in the United States.
Most of the 63 people staying at Good Samaritan, across the border from El Paso, Texas, were women and their children from Mexico and Central America. According to Rev. Juan Fierro, the shelter’s director, said the vast majority had either been expelled under Title 42 authority or were still waiting to try for asylum.
A group of women said that if Title 42 ended they would run to the bridge at the border to request asylum, because returning to their homes was not an option.
Melida Castro, a 32-year-old from Honduras, has been at the shelter for four months with her children, ages 3 and 8. She said that there was nothing else to do except wait, explaining that she fled Honduras when her uncle was killed by a gang.
“She said that she saw her uncle die in her arms. She and her family had crossed the border and surrendered to Border Patrol agents. They were then flown to El Paso, and then pushed back towards Mexico. She said the agents mentioned Title 42, but didn’t explain what it meant.
While word of lifting the asylum limits provided a glimmer of hope, the possibility was also met with suspicion. The delay of lifting the asylum limits to late May was done by the Biden administration, who had over a year to prepare. This is to allow them to sell time before the U.S. government comes up with another obstacle.
” Suddenly, they’ll say, “We’re not lifting it,”” Victor Sanchez said, who fled Honduras along with her and three of their younger siblings. For the past month, they have been living in another shelter in Ciudad Juarez. The nine-bedroom Oscar Romero House shelter is made of concrete and has a courtyard that houses a pomegranate trees. Children play there after school. The parents sit on the second floor terrace, fearful to go outside, sharing care of the youngest children and looking across the dusty desert cityscape to the mountains of El Paso less than 10 miles away.
Katherine, Sanchez’s wife, had a baby while in Mexico. She said, “If we must wait, we wait.” “Now that there are organizations that can help us, we’ll wait for a legal way.”
There have been signs that the Biden administration has been preparing for an expected surge of asylum seekers trying to make their way to the border.
Two weeks ago, the U.S. Alejandro Mayorkas, Homeland Security Secretary, visited Mexico and Costa Rica in order to talk about managing the flow of migration. Mayorkas stated that he reached “migration arrangements” with Costa Rica, but did not provide details.
In his State of the Union Address this month, President Joe Biden had said, “We’re securing commitments and supporting partners in South and Central America to host more refugees and secure their own borders.”
Both Mexico and Costa Rica are taking in substantial numbers of asylum seekers that in many cases would otherwise try to enter the United States. These could be crucial in controlling the flow of migrants into the U.S. border.
Last year, Costa Rica began requiring visas from Venezuelans as well as Cubans. This is a move to slow down their northward migration. Mexico required Cuban visas already and in January added Venezuelans to that requirement. Despite this, large numbers have still been crossing the border. The Department of Homeland Security said Tuesday that about 7,100 migrants were coming daily, compared with an average of about 5,900 a day in February and on pace to match or exceed highs from last year, 2019 and other peak periods.
Camilo Cruz, a spokesman with the United Nations International Organization for Migration, said this week that every U.S. move on immigration affects migration flows in the region.
“It motivates people and generates hope, or some type of speculation by traffickers,” Cruz stated. Cruz stated that the IOM supported a network border shelters and worked to increase their capacities in recent years.
Immigration advocacy groups applauded the decision, which they universally viewed as long overdue. Some, like the migrants, questioned why the decision was delayed until May. The Biden administration had been preparing for months.
“A phased wind-down strategy just further proves this was never about public health,” Erin Mazursky, interim director of Families Belong Together, a coalition of groups opposed to Trump-era immigration policies, said in a statement. “This policy was in place for two years too long and the reported decision to extend Title 42 until May 23rd is simply another excuse to expel more people. The expulsions should be stopped if the intention is to end upending lives and to uphold America’s commitments to asylum and due procedure. She said that the administration was “working hard to find a way of processing migrants lawfully and humanely, efficiently”
Associated Press writer Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed to this report.