After hearing rumors that Central American families with young children were allowed into the United States, Irma Paz left Honduras with her husband and two children for a nearly two-month trip to the shores. of the Rio Grande.
They waded through the cold waters, surrendered to immigration authorities and were allowed to enter the country to seek asylum.
I thought, thank you, my Lord. We made the cut, she said while waiting at a Brownsville bus station with her 3 and 5-year-old son and daughter. They were planning to travel to Oklahoma to join her stepfather, carrying documents to present at a future immigration court hearing.
Meanwhile, in the border town of Reynosa, Mexico, a mother from El Salvador sobbed after U.S. border officials deported her and her 8-year-old daughter. Their situation was almost the same as that of Paz’s family, but they suffered a completely different fate due to a mysterious new system under the administration of President Joe Biden that governs the fate of thousands of migrants with children who arrived in the border in recent weeks.
The criteria for admission to the United States are a closely guarded secret. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas spoke only of the acute vulnerabilities that allow families to be released to the United States to seek asylum instead of being immediately deported.
The mystery leaves migrants guessing when they arrive at the border.
For Paz, the system meant a ticket to Tulsa and a chance to reconnect with loved ones. For Salvadoran woman, Roxana Cardosa, that meant being banished to a violent Mexican border town without food or money and sleeping on the concrete of a plaza.
Deportations are among many challenges facing the new administration at the border as it attempts to maintain some elements of former President Donald Trump’s deterrence policies while taking a softer stance towards the most vulnerable migrants. The issue also hangs over Biden’s efforts to pass landmark legislation that would grant a path to citizenship for all of the estimated 11 million people who are illegally in the United States.
The asylum system was born out of an emergency measure adopted during the coronavirus pandemic by the Trump administration that is applied unevenly by Biden.
More than seven of the ten border encounters in February resulted in deportations under pandemic-related powers known as Title 42, ”named after an article in an obscure public health law that l administration Trump invoked a year ago.
Biden has kept Title 42 in place as he designs what he promises will be a humane asylum system. Citizens of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are typically back in Mexico within two hours, while other nationalities are held up in the United States for repatriation by air without the possibility of asylum.
Breaking with Trump, the Biden administration releases most children traveling alone to parents in the United States and gives them notices to appear in immigration court. Nearly 9,500 of these children arrived in February, up 60% from the previous month.
Nine out of ten encounters with single adults in February resulted in Title 42 deportations. Mayorkas said last week that the United States only makes exceptions for adults with certain acute vulnerabilities, “without giving details .
Families fall in the middle, six of ten meetings ending in eviction in February. Another factor, Mayorkas said, is that Mexico sometimes restricts the return of families, including in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, the busiest corridor for illegal crossings. The number of family arrivals in February exceeded 19,200, more than double the level of the previous month.
Limited detention space for nationalities that cannot be deported to Mexico can also influence those released in the United States, said Theresa Cardinal Brown, director general of immigration and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center.
The administration is strongly encouraged to keep its reasoning secret.
We know that once the criteria are known, the migrants’ decisions follow, ”said Brown, a former head of the Department of Homeland Security.
This did not stop the migrants from guessing.
About 2,000 migrants were seen in the Rio Grande region on Thursday, up from an average daily peak of around 1,600 under Trump in May 2019, said Brian Hastings, head of that sector for the border patrol.
Catholic charities in the Rio Grande Valley last week received 150 to 200 family members from U.S. officials, but the number is fluctuating, group executive director Sister Norma Pimentel said. The border patrol appears to be freeing families with children under the age of 6.
One of those families was released Sunday at sunset in McAllen, Texas. Joel Lobo, 30, held hands with his 4-year-old daughter to cross a busy road. His wife and eldest daughter remained in Honduras. He had heard from his sister and father in Virginia that only families with young children were applying for asylum.
Lobo left two weeks earlier to join Reynosa, claiming he was fleeing poverty. They crossed the river and traveled dirt roads before heading to the border patrol. They slept in the dirt under a bridge overnight while detained in the United States.
She’s still mad at me, Lobo said, looking at her daughter Fernanda, who smirked back at her as she explained that she was scared and cold during the trip. It was all quite risky and overall a long journey. But we are relieved.
The future is bleaker for families who have returned to Mexico.
Cardosa, 25, the Salvadoran woman who was deported with her daughter, waited in a square outside a Mexican government building in Reynosa. Mexican officials forced them to leave the scene on Saturday for a nearby park.
I don’t know what’s next for us, she said, shifting her gaze between dozens of other migrants. That will be difficult. It is not easy to come home.
Edrei Rodriguez, a Baptist pastor who frequents the area where migrants are dropped off by US officials, said some families arrive with false hopes.
With the change of government, they heard that there were a lot of opportunities and they decided to come, he said. They took a chance, but they didn’t have a plan B.
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