EL PASO, Texas (AP) — Several hundred people marched through the streets of El Paso on Saturday afternoon, and when they arrived in front of a group of migrants huddled in front of a church, they sang to them “no estan solos” – “you are not alone”.
About 300 migrants took refuge on the sidewalks outside the Church of the Sacred Heart, some of them fearful to seek more formal shelter, advocates say, amid new restrictions meant to crack down on border crossings illegal.
It’s the scene that will greet President Joe Biden on his politically thorny first 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 United States illegally — an extension of a pandemic-era immigration policy called Title 42. The new rules will also include the offer of humanitarian parole for up to 30,000 people per month from these four countries if they apply online and find a financial sponsor.
Biden is expected to arrive in El Paso on Sunday afternoon before traveling to Mexico City to meet with North American leaders Monday and Tuesday.
Dylan Corbett, who runs the non-profit Hope Border Institute, said the city is experiencing a growing “climate of fear”.
He said immigration control agencies had already started increasing deportations to Mexico and he felt a growing level of tension and confusion.
The president’s new policy builds on an existing effort to prevent Venezuelans from attempting to enter the United States, which began in October.
Corbett said many Venezuelans have since been left in limbo, straining local resources. He said extending these policies to other migrants would only worsen their situation on the ground.
“It’s a very difficult situation because they can’t go forward or back,” he said. People who are not processed cannot leave El Paso due to US law enforcement checkpoints; most have traveled thousands of miles from their home country and refuse to give up and turn back.
“There will be people in need of protection who will be left behind,” Corbett said.
The new restrictions represent a major change to immigration rules that will remain in place even if the U.S. Supreme Court ends a Trump-era public health law that allows U.S. authorities to refuse applicants. asylum.
El Paso quickly became the busiest of the nine Border Patrol sectors along the US border with Mexico, taking the top spots in October and November. Large numbers of Venezuelans began showing up in September, drawn by the relative ease of passage, strong shelter networks and bus service on both sides of the border, and a major airport to destinations across the states. -United.
Venezuelans ceased to be a major presence almost overnight after Mexico, under the authority of Title 42, agreed on October 12 to accept those illegally crossing the border into the United States. Nicaraguans have since filled that void. Title 42 restrictions have been applied 2.5 million times to deny migrants the right to seek asylum under U.S. and international law on the grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19.
US authorities arrested migrants 53,247 times in November in the El Paso sector, which spans 264 miles of desert in West Texas and New Mexico but sees much of its activity in the city of El Paso and the suburb of Sunland Park, New Mexico. The most recent monthly tally for the sector was more than triple the same period of 2021, with Nicaraguans by far the top nationality, followed by Mexicans, Ecuadorians, Guatemalans and Cubans.
Many gathered under blankets in front of Sacred Heart Church. The church opens its doors at night to families and women, so the hundreds of people caught in this limbo don’t all have to sleep outside in the dropping temperatures. Two buses were available for people to warm up and charge their phones. Volunteers come with food and other supplies.
Juan Tovar held a Bible in his hands, his 7-year-old daughter hoisted on his shoulders. The 32-year-old was a bus driver in Venezuela before fleeing with his wife and two daughters due to political and financial chaos in their home country.
He has friends in San Antonio ready to host them, he said. He’s here to work and educate his daughters, but he’s stuck in El Paso without a license.
“It’s all in God’s hands,” he said. “We are all humans and we want to stay.”
Another Venezuelan, Jeremy Mejia, 22, overheard and said he had a message he would like to send to the president.
“President Biden, I ask God to touch your heart so we can stay in this country,” Mejia said. “I ask you to touch your heart and help us migrants have a better future in the United States”
Leighton reported from El Paso and Spagat from Yuma, Arizona. AP writer Claire Galofaro contributed to this report from Louisville, Kentucky.