On eve of Biden’s border visit, migrants fear new rules
EL PASO, Texas (AP) — Several hundred people marched through the streets of El Paso Saturday afternoon, and when they reached a group of migrants gathered outside a church, they sang to them “no estan solos” — “you are not alone . “
About 300 migrants have taken shelter on the sidewalks outside Sacred Heart Church, some afraid to seek more formal shelter, advocates say, amid new restrictions aimed at cracking down on illegal border crossings.
That’s the scene that will greet President Joe Biden on his first politically charged visit to the southern border on Sunday.
The president announced last week that Cubans, Nicaraguans, Haitians and Venezuelans will be deported to Mexico if they enter the U.S. illegally — an expansion of a pandemic-era immigration policy called Title 42. The new rules will also include providing parole. humanitarian aid up to 30,000 people per month from these four countries if they apply online and find a financial sponsor.
Biden is scheduled to arrive in El Paso on Sunday afternoon before traveling to Mexico City to meet with North American leaders on Monday and Tuesday.
Dylan Corbett, who runs the nonprofit Hope Border Institute, said the city is experiencing a growing “climate of fear.”
He said immigration enforcement agencies have already begun increasing deportations to Mexico, and he senses a growing level of tension and confusion.
The president’s new policy expands on an existing effort to stop Venezuela’s attempt to enter the US, which began in October.
Corbett said many Venezuelans have since been left behind, putting a strain on local resources. He said that extending these policies to other migrants will only worsen conditions for them on the ground.
“It’s a very difficult situation because they can’t go forward and they can’t go back,” he said. People who are not processed cannot leave El Paso because of US law enforcement checkpoints; most have traveled thousands of kilometers from their homeland and refuse to surrender and return.
“There will be people who need protection who will be left behind,” Corbett said.
The new restrictions represent a major change in immigration rules that will stand even if the US Supreme Court strikes down a Trump-era public health law that allows US authorities to remove asylum seekers.
El Paso has quickly become the busiest sector of the nine Border Patrol sectors along the US-Mexico border, taking the top spots in October and November. Large numbers of Venezuelans began showing up in September, drawn by the relative ease of crossing, robust shelter networks and bus service on both sides of the border, and a major airport to destinations across the United States.
Venezuelans ceased to be a large presence almost overnight after Mexico, under Title 42 authority, agreed on Oct. 12 to admit those who crossed the border illegally into the United States. Nicaraguans have filled that void ever since. Title 42 restrictions have been applied 2.5 million times to deny migrants the right to seek asylum under US and international law for reasons of preventing the spread of COVID-19.
US authorities stopped immigrants 53,247 times in November in the El Paso sector, which stretches across 264 miles of desert in West Texas and New Mexico, but sees most of its activity in the city of El Paso and suburban Sunland Park, New Mexico. . The most recent monthly report for the sector was more than triple the same period in 2021, with Nicaraguans the top nationality by far, followed by Mexicans, Ecuadorians, Guatemalans and Cubans.
Many gathered under blankets outside the Church of the Sacred Heart. The church opens its doors at night to families and women, so not all of the hundreds trapped in this limbo have to sleep outside in the plunging temperatures. Two buses were available for people to warm up and charge their phones. Volunteers bring food and other supplies.
Juan Tovar held a Bible in his hands, his 7-year-old daughter perched on his shoulders. The 32-year-old was a bus driver in Venezuela before fleeing with his wife and two daughters due to the political and financial chaos engulfing their country.
He has friends in San Antonio prepared to take them in, he said. He’s here to work and provide an education for his daughters, but he’s stuck in El Paso without permission.
“Everything is in God’s hands,” he said. “We are all human and we want to stay.”
Another Venezuelan, 22-year-old Jeremy Mejia, listened and said he had a message he’d like to send to the president.
“President Biden, I’m asking God to touch your heart so that we can stay in this country,” Mejia said. “I ask you to touch your heart and help us immigrants have a better future in the USA”
Leighton reported from El Paso and Spagat from Yuma, Arizona. AP writer Claire Galofaro contributed to this report from Louisville, Kentucky.