World

Biden’s New Order Leaves Migrants at Border in Limbo Over Asylum Fate


Fabiola Yépez, a 20-year-old mother from Venezuela, was sheltering under a bridge in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, with her toddler son when she first learned of President Biden’s new executive order restricting asylum seekers.

Despite witnessing U.S. soldiers on the other side of the border firing nonlethal projectiles at migrants the day before, she planned to attempt crossing into the United States on Wednesday, just hours after the order took effect.

“Maybe it’s not like what they’re saying, and they won’t turn us back,” Ms. Yépez said. “I’m afraid, especially with my child in my arms.”

In the wake of the new order, migrants scattered along the U.S.-Mexico border are trying to understand how they will be affected by the measure, the most restrictive border policy instituted by Mr. Biden. The directive allows the United States to temporarily close the border to asylum-seekers when the seven-day average for daily illegal crossings hits 2,500.

In some locations along the border on Wednesday, there seemed to be confusion as to whether the order had technically taken effect and if border agents should be enforcing it. Shelter operators and humanitarian workers in Mexico were also scrambling to understand its implications.

Juan Fierro García, the director of El Buen Samaritano (The Good Samaritan), a migrant shelter in Ciudad Juárez, just across the border from El Paso, said that the new policy could place greater strain on his operation and other local shelters if large numbers of migrants are turned away.

He noted that there are relatively few migrants currently in the city, reflecting a sharp decline since the start of the year — a result of increased enforcement measures by Mexico to transport people away from the border to other parts of the country.

Mr. Fierro García said his shelter occupants were largely families who have been waiting for months for an interview with U.S. immigration officials through CBP One, an app used to schedule appointments to request asylum. But even though the shelter only housed 55 people in a space meant for 280, Mr. Fierro García said food was running short.

“We don’t have the supplies needed at this time to receive more people,” he said.

Some people were still entering the United States on Wednesday morning, reflecting limited exceptions to the new restrictions, including for minors who cross the border alone, victims of human trafficking and those who use the CBP One app. It was also unclear in some places whether the executive action was to be enforced immediately.

In Mexicali, across the border from Calexico, Calif., more than a dozen migrants, appearing to be from Haiti and holding CBP One appointments, were permitted to cross into the United States on Wednesday morning. Others, however, were refused entry.

Georgina Esquivel, 40, a food seller from Morelos state in Mexico, said she had not heard of Mr. Biden’s order. Hoping to request asylum in the United States without a CBP One appointment, Ms. Esquivel said she and her 10-year-old daughter, Maria, were turned away by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials.

“I’m going to stay here,” Ms. Esquivel said. “I don’t even know what to do yet. I don’t want to go back to Morelos, and I don’t want to stay in Mexicali either.”

At an open-air holding site, set between two walls that separate the United States and Mexico in the Tijuana River Valley in San Diego, dozens of migrants who had crossed the border on Wednesday gathered and waited for Border Patrol to pick them up to be processed.

“It’s been business as usual, I would say,” said Pedro Rios, a director at the American Friends Service Committee, a nonprofit that assists migrants and provides them food and water. The only change, he said, was that fewer people seemed to be crossing on Wednesday compared with previous days.

In El Paso, shelter operators said it may be too early to see a concrete effect from the order.

“We’re going to have to give it a chance to evolve,” said Ruben Garcia, director of Annunciation House, a nonprofit shelter system. “You’re talking about an order that is going to have logistical implementation aspects to it. So we’re going to have to give them a chance to see how that actually gets done.”

Mr. Garcia also emphasized that the number of migrants on the border waiting to cross is extremely low compared with past years, making it less likely for the order to have a large impact.

Mexican immigration experts say Mr. Biden’s executive order is concerning and could put asylum seekers at risk.

“I see echoes of mechanisms that have been tried in the past,” said Rafael Velásquez García, the Mexico director of the International Rescue Committee, one of the world’s leading refugee assistance organizations. He noted that previous actions, such as Title 42, failed to reduce the demand for asylum, improve Mexico’s ability to receive migrants or allocate resources to increase opportunities within Mexico.

“I don’t see the point of it,” he added. “It simply doesn’t work.”

In any case, Mexico would bear the brunt of the measure, analysts say. Immigration authorities would likely be left to deal with the people sent back over the border, by detaining and busing them to distant states in an effort to wear them down, said Eunice Rendón, the coordinator of Migrant Agenda, a coalition of Mexican advocacy groups.

“The flow would be neither safe nor orderly,” said Ms. Rendón. “It’s the opposite of what you want migration to be.”

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on Wednesday denied that the executive action would create problems for Mexican officials, saying that his administration was helping the United States reach agreements with other countries to deport migrants directly. It was unclear which countries he referred to or how this would happen.

Some migrants who managed to cross into the United States in recent days were surprised over their luck.

José Luis Posada, 23, from El Salvador said he had crossed on Monday near Tijuana by climbing over a border wall. He was released on Wednesday by Border Patrol agents at a mass-transit stop in San Diego.

“It’s a miracle,” Mr. Posada said about his timing. By Wednesday, he had learned of Mr. Biden’s new executive order.

“God knows what he’s doing, and here we are,” he said.

Aline Corpus contributed reporting from Mexicali, Mexico, Jonathan Wolfe from San Diego and Reyes Mata III from El Paso.



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