NOGALES, Mexico – Guadalupe Garcia crossed the border from Arizona with her 11-year-old daughter earlier this year, saying she was fleeing the brutal beatings she suffered at the hands of her husband in Guatemala. Border Patrol informed her that the United States was not open for asylum and quickly put the couple on a bus to Mexico.
Five months later, Ms Garcia and her daughter are still in the Mexican border town of Nogales, where she has found work in a restaurant. “We’re patiently waiting for the US to open,” she said recently as she filled orders for breaded chicken, enchiladas and tacos. Isilda was in an adjoining room, making collages from magazine clippings while her mother worked.
San Juan Bosco, a shelter in Nogales where the two are staying, has hosted many migrants for “five, six, even 10 months”, said Maria Antonia Diaz, a longtime volunteer. They are among tens of thousands of migrants currently lingering in Mexican outposts – some who have taken jobs and rented apartments – awaiting the day, expected soon, when the United States will fully reopen its doors to applicants. of asylum.
The situation at the southern border is reaching a critical stage, according to federal and state officials who must accommodate incoming migrants. Even ahead of next week’s scheduled lifting of the Title 42 public health rule, which has allowed the government to rapidly deport nearly two million migrants over the past two years, U.S. Border Patrol agents are encountering a number near record number of people who either crossed over their own or were allowed entry under various Title 42 exemptions.
A total of 234,088 migrants crossed the southern border in April, surpassing March’s 22-year record of 221,444, including a record 34,821 from Cuba and 20,118 from Ukraine. Lifting Title 42 could send an even bigger surge of up to 18,000 migrants a day, administration officials say.
Although a federal court could temporarily suspend the lifting of the public health order – postponing the day of judgment – the main challenge for the Biden administration in the months to come is to find a way to deter the thousands of migrants who come to the United States not because of imminent threats of violence or persecution – threats to which the United States is legally and morally bound to respond – but in search of jobs and a better future.
The official intent of Title 42, originally put in place under the Trump administration, was to slow the transmission of the coronavirus across the border. But it quickly became a powerful tool to slow down immigration.
“There has never been a public health rationale for using the authority of Title 42 in the battle to contain Covid-19,” said Wayne Cornelius, director emeritus of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California. in San Diego.
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“It was an obscure rule,” he said, “as part of a multi-pronged effort to curb immigration to the United States.”
The Biden administration has come under pressure from progressives to end deportations and provide refuge for migrants who have legitimate claims of persecution in their home countries. He announced in April that the order would be lifted on May 23, with strengthened plans to handle new arrivals. But the large number of migrants expected to cross in the weeks after the order is lifted has given pause, with even some Democrats advocating a slow approach.
Whether the policy ends next week or not, the United States will likely see large numbers of people at the border for the foreseeable future. Global unrest drives migrants from Venezuela to Colombia; from Nicaragua to Costa Rica; and everywhere, near or far, in the United States, where jobs are plentiful and where prosperity and security seem within reach.
“Despite who is in charge and what policies are in place, there are global and regional forces that will drive continued migration,” said Eileen Díaz McConnell, professor of global migration at Arizona State University. These forces, she said, include climate change, economic and political upheaval, organized crime and domestic violence, as well as the fallout from the global health crisis.
To cope with the expected increase, the Department of Homeland Security unveiled a plan to focus new resources on the border, and Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the head of the agency, vowed that people without legal basis to enter the country will face detention, deportation, and other consequences that were frozen during Title 42.
A new program to adjudicate asylum claims at the border within a year, rather than through backlogged immigration courts that often take six to eight years, aims to discourage families with low demands to travel north.
“We are increasing the enforcement consequences we impose on people who do not meet the conditions” to stay in the United States under the law, Mayorkas said during a visit to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. tuesday.
Any US effort to prevent a mass influx will depend on how countries in the region, particularly Mexico and Guatemala, manage their borders. Migrants from all over the world pass through these countries en route to the United States. Mexico also plays a crucial role in choosing which migrants it picks up after they are deported from the United States.
In April, more than four in 10 border encounters by officers involved migrants from countries outside of Mexico and the Northern Triangle of Central America, an unprecedented proportion. And many have been allowed to enter the United States despite Title 42, which has excluded about 60% of migrants who have crossed the border since it took effect in 2020.
Recently, three buses full of male migrants, mostly from India, Senegal and Georgia, arrived at the Casa Alitas shelter in Tucson within three hours. Most of them had spent a few days in detention, then were released with ankle monitors and orders to report to court later for deportation hearings.
Among those queuing for help booking tickets to destinations across the country was Bassir, 30. He had flown from Senegal to Brazil, where he began an overland trek to reach the Mexico-Arizona border, he said. As he crossed the Darien Gap, a lawless stretch of jungle near the Colombia-Panama border, bandits pointed a gun to his head and stole his watch and $350. But after being intercepted by border agents and spending a few days in detention, he was finally looking for a chance to find a job in the United States, only wondering aloud: “How long are they going to keep this thing on my foot ?”
A 20-year-old man named Preet Singh, on his way to Los Angeles, said his parents in India paid guides $16,000 who ferried him through Europe and Mexico to the United States.
The numbers at the U.S. border reflect a growing range of global turmoil that has increasingly found its way to America’s doorstep, said Adam Isacson, a researcher at the Washington office on Latin America who has begun to study the border in 2000.
“The world has collapsed during the pandemic,” Mr. Isacson said, “and this internationalization of crossers has intensified.”
This is a trend unlikely to reverse. “There is little reason to believe that the world will become more stable, peaceful and prosperous over the next 10 years,” he said.
Since rapid deportations under Title 42 allowed many single adults to make repeated attempts until they managed to evade U.S. border officials, administration officials predicted that the total number encounters by officers may decline after Title 42 is canceled, despite the expected arrival of thousands of new asylum seekers waiting on the other side.
But deterring large numbers of people from arriving with dodgy asylum claims will be one of the main challenges in the months after Title 42 is lifted. from the administration, it will take time for word to get out that people are being denied protection and being deported. And any message from the US government will compete with that of a sophisticated smuggling industry that quickly adapts to changing policies.
“It’s not just about individual migrants; there is a system that responds to changes in policy,” said Professor Díaz McConnell of Arizona State.
The only certainty is that the longer it takes for Title 42 to be lifted, the more migrants will accumulate on the Mexican side, creating a bottleneck that increases the potential for overcrowding and disruption when it ends.
A Mexican woman named Betzaida and her three children are among hundreds or more displaced families from Guerrero, a Mexican state convulsed by cartel violence, who wait in Nogales for Title 42 to end. The family rents an apartment and receives the help from Kino Border Initiative, a non-profit organization that provides meals, clothing and legal services to migrants.
“We never considered leaving Mexico. We had a stable life,” said Betzaida, who did not want her last name published out of fear for her safety. That changed, she said, when gang members, determined to seize their property, kidnapped and beat her husband unconscious. “All we want to do is disappear from Mexico so they can’t find us,” she said.
Similar scenes unfold in Mexican border towns from the Pacific coast to the Gulf of Mexico.
Magdala Jean, 33, and her husband are from Haiti. They wait with thousands of other migrants in the cartel-controlled border town of Reynosa across from McAllen, Texas.
In Port-au-Prince, they said, they felt unsafe amid a series of shootings by gangs who now control large swathes of the capital. They couldn’t find jobs either. Camping in Mexico was their best option, she said.
“We want to wait, so as not to be turned away,” she said.
About 280 miles away, in the small town of Piedras Negras, Mexico, men, women and children in tattered clothes made their way to Primera Iglesia Bautista, a shelter in a nondescript building a block away. of the international bridge leading to Eagle Pass, Texas. They said there were a lot of people behind them.
Israel Rodriguez, the pastor of the shelter, said that not only have more people arrived in recent weeks, but also that they are from different countries than in the past.
“People will keep coming. This is the oldest story,” he said. “They have crossed mountains, lakes and rivers and they will not come back because a law is lifted or added. There is no stopping them.”
Eileen Sullivan and Edgar Sandoval contributed report.