Asylum seekers at US-Mexico border worry about their next step: ‘We can’t return’

Angel Ramos Girón looked for an opening to break the coils of concertina wire that stood between him and the enormous American fence at Gate 36.

The port of entry divides Ciudid Juárez in Mexico, where he stood Tuesday afternoon looking at El Paso, the sister city in Texas in the US.

At the time, he was sitting under a small bush just south of the Rio Grande that marks the U.S.-Mexico border, trying to get a moment of relief from the heat wave that this week prompted heat warnings of 107F in the area.

The 27-year-old from Tegucigalpa, Honduras, spent the past week trying to figure out how to enter the U.S. without authorization and seek asylum. He planned to get through the barbed wire that day, but just discovered that everything had changed.

Girón and other migrants standing at Gate 36 were shocked when a reporter said Tuesday afternoon that Joe Biden had just announced a new executive order to close the border to asylum seekers who enter the country illegally if the numbers get too high — and that could be a have a major impact. immediate effect.

“I’m screwed,” he said in Spanish, dismay on his face. “I don’t know what to do and I have no money, nothing left.”

The new decision aims to temporarily block all asylum applications once the average number of daily encounters of people passing through legal ports of entry reaches 2,500. The border would only reopen when that number drops to 1,500. It was not immediately clear how federal agents moving along the nearly 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border, which crosses four U.S. states, will be notified that that number has been reached.

According to the White House, migrants legally seeking asylum will have the option to use the US Customs and Border Protection’s CBP One mobile app to schedule an appointment with US authorities.

It sounds simple, but fewer than 1,500 appointments are made per day and many thousands of people are trying to get one. People wait just south of the border for months, often sleeping in the wilderness or in crowded shelters and trying every day without success. And the app has also had technical problems.

“To be honest, we didn’t think about using it. Plus it would take forever to get an appointment,” said Salome Hernandez, who was standing just south of the border, not far from Girón, with her sister, mother, cousin and grandfather.

The 20-year-old and her family had to flee Medellín, Colombia, in late May, she said, after her grandfather received death threats for leading the Community Action Board, a social organization there.

Hernandez’s grandfather, who did not give his name for security reasons, said men in military gear gave him an ultimatum: stop his activism to stop deforestation in a nature reserve in the Valle del Cauca and the Riseralda region, or risk he that they were killed.

“We have no plan and we cannot return,” the 64-year-old man said when he heard about the new executive order. “This is a low blow.”

Hernandez’s cousin, Eduardo, said he would persuade his family to enter the U.S. illegally through the New Mexico desert west of Ciudad Juárez and El Paso.

The desert anywhere along the border can be dangerous, but border patrols reported four migrant deaths last weekend due to heat and dehydration in that stretch of desert that Eduardo was now desperately considering.

Eduardo said he hoped the group could go to New York or Denver, where they have family. He asked if Denver was walkable. It’s about 650 miles away.

Across the river, on American soil but against the huge fence, barbed wire and a locked gate, was a group of about twenty people, who hoped to get through, but could no longer seek asylum without an official appointment. as daily numbers have been much higher than 2,500 people. There was no shade and they had lain in the blazing sun for hours, with children and at least one baby visible in the group.

Ramos Girón also said that the desert is now his last resort. “I’ve been through a lot to get here. The sun doesn’t scare me,” he said.

Since arriving in Mexico, he had spent the past two months working odd jobs to support himself and save money to send back to his wife, the nine-year-old girl and the seventeen-month-old boy he had left behind in Honduras.

The 150 Honduran lempiras, about $6, that he earned daily as a farmer in Honduras harvesting coffee beans and corn did not cover the basic needs to support his family, he said.

“I’d rather die trying than have my family starve,” Girón said.

In contrast to the shock and despair evident on the Mexican side of the border Tuesday, all seemed calm on the U.S. side.

More than 700 miles west of El Paso, at the San Ysidro port of entry between Tijuana in northern Mexico and California, just south of San Diego, it was business as usual.

This corridor is one of the busiest land crossings in the world, and the San Diego sector has seen a large increase in asylum seekers in recent months.

But Tuesday was quiet and families and individuals living in the area continued with their work, many walking across the bridge that connects the two countries. Red trolleys at the San Ysidro transit center waited to take passengers to other Southern California cities, and groups of people filtered in and out of small shops at the border, exchanging cash at currency exchanges and ordering food at McDonald’s.

For many, walking or driving across the border is a regular part of their week.

Abel Walser, a 26-year-old from Oceanside with Mexican heritage, crossed into the U.S. with a friend around noon. “This country was built to be a melting pot,” he said, adding that he knows people who initially came to the U.S. illegally but have since gone through the extremely difficult, yearlong process of becoming U.S. citizens.

For Gustavo Rodriguez, who lives in Tijuana but was born in San Diego, the president’s order was good news. “I feel like it’s starting to get out of hand,” he said of recent immigration numbers. “Unfortunately, there may be people who really need it (asylum), but we are just swamped with people.

Meanwhile, Erika Palomo walked through the palm tree-lined transit center on her way back to the Mexican side.

“I’ve seen all the people trying to cross over and get better opportunities, especially children,” she said. “It’s a lot of people.” But she added that she believed mothers and children should receive extra attention when it comes to asylum.

On the Tijuana side of the border, cars waited to enter the U.S. for as far as the eye could see. Men and women offered Mexico-themed churros, candy and trinkets to the drivers. Passport control was busy, but a line was still visible: several dozen people, probably undocumented, waiting with suitcases and pressed against a wall looking for some shade. In fact, their fate was much less certain than it had been 24 hours earlier.

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