The first time Mari Marin Bastidas tried to apply for asylum at the U.S. border, she was turned away by authorities, who said a policy instituted to slow the spread of COVID-19 meant her case wouldn’t even get a hearing .
Dejected, she returned to her home in the state of Michoacán in western Mexico.
Two years later, he returns to the border to try again. Word has spread that the policy, known as Title 42, is about to be lifted.
“I decided to come because of the opportunity,” said Bastidas, 29 years old. “I won’t go back there again.”
The fate of the policy now rests with the US Supreme Court as anxiety and confusion grow on both sides of the border. In Ciudad Juárez, an untold number of asylum seekers have gathered in recent weeks. Across the Rio Grande in El Paso, the mayor has declared a state of emergency in anticipation of a massive influx.
Bastidas, along with her 8-year-old daughter and two brothers, were among dozens of migrants waiting along a narrow stretch of the river.
Some crossed over to report to border agents, either not realizing Title 42 was still in effect or willing to take the risk anyway.
Bastidas and his family decided to wait and headed to a nearby migrant shelter. At the moment they had $500 to carry.
They plan to seek asylum out of fear of a local gang that she said had threatened her family for failing to pay a monthly extortion fee of approximately $400. Another brother had been killed several years earlier by members of the gang making a similar plan.
Before Title 42, the United States considered all asylum applications, which often meant releasing migrants to the United States until a court ruled on their cases, a process that can take years due to a large delay A small minority of asylum applications are ultimately accepted. Fleeing poverty is not a valid basis for a claim.
Under Title 42, a decades-old public health measure that the Trump administration resurrected in the early days of the pandemic, asylum seekers can be quickly deported.
The Biden administration has challenged the policy in court while continuing to use it with the help of Mexico, which agreed to take in Central Americans, and later Venezuelans, that the United States rejected.
But last month, a federal judge ruled that Title 42 was being used arbitrarily and was no longer justified as a pandemic health measure. He ordered it to rise in December. 21.
Some 19 Republican-led states appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that ending the policy would lead to a surge in new migrants, and on Monday — two days before the deadline — President John G. Roberts Jr. . decided that it would stay until the court decided the case.
If the policy falls through, the Biden administration may find new ways to limit asylum seekers.
Still, El Paso has been preparing for the day when asylum seekers can no longer be summarily turned away.
At a popular crossing point along the Rio Grande, members of the Texas Army National Guard lined the riverbank with razor wire this week as a deterrent and stood guard alongside their Humvees.
But already, an average of 1,500 migrants a day are being detained by the Border Patrol in the El Paso region, according to the Department of Homeland Security. After their fingerprints and basic information are taken, many are removed under Title 42. Some may be taken to an immigration detention center.
Others who could qualify for a Title 42 exemption, usually on humanitarian grounds or because Mexico limits the number of migrants it accepts from various countries, can be released and allowed to remain in the United States, often with a court date.
This week, more than 50 migrants were staying at the Casa de l’Annunciación shelter, north of the border. With cribs in the chapel and playroom, the shelter has room for 60.
Most move within 48 hours to live with family or friends. Others have been transported to religious communities across the country that have offered to take them in.
The rapid change is important to accommodate the new migrants, said Rubén García, who founded and runs the shelter.
“If we’re struggling to deal with the number of people that are coming and we haven’t even lifted Title 42, can you imagine what will happen when Title 42 is lifted?” he said
In anticipation, the city has opened its convention center for temporary housing. About 200 of the 1,000 beds there were filled by Thursday night.
Even so, some migrants are already living on the streets.
Not far from the convention center – where ice skaters glided down a large rink next to a lighted Christmas tree – dozens of Venezuelan migrants had settled along two blocks of sidewalk. Cardboard sheets served as mattresses. Locals left donations of clothes.
A 26-year-old woman named Yesimar – she spoke on the condition that her last name not be used, because she had just crossed the border illegally – has wrapped herself in a blanket. It was 7 in the afternoon and the temperature had dropped to 40 degrees.
She and her husband fled Venezuela five years ago and had been living in Peru. It took three months to reach the US border. With Title 42 still in place, they felt they had no choice but to sneak in.
They passed through a gap in the border fence and approached a McDonald’s to change clothes and catch their breath after eluding the authorities.
“The truth is they don’t give us a chance to enter this country,” Yesimar said. “It never occurred to us to enter illegally.”
Back in Ciudad Juárez, many more migrants await him.
Alexander Diaz, his wife and 3-year-old son were down to about $100. The 24-year-old Venezuelan has been giving $2 haircuts to fellow migrants in an alley near the Rio Gran.
The family found a place in a shelter, but the bathroom doesn’t work. “Imagine, enduring the cold, without showering,” Diaz said.
Jesús Carrera, 22, said he earns $15 a day washing car windows at a traffic light. A generous local gave him and other migrants a place to sleep, and he speaks daily to his mother in Venezuela, who urges him to return home. He hasn’t seen her since he left the country six years ago in hopes of escaping poverty.
He tried to seek asylum at the US border in October, but was removed under Title 42 and moved to the Mexican state of Chiapas. He came to the border again last weekend because he thought the politics were over.
“I’m asking God to change my luck,” he said. “It’s about time.”
Rosalia Castro Sosa, a Sears saleswoman from southern Mexico, arrived in Ciudad Juárez on Wednesday, thinking Title 42 had been lifted as planned.
He immediately crossed the river and turned himself in, waiting for hours in the cold in a long line for officials to take down his information. Then they left her on the Mexican side of a border bridge.
While waiting for the policy to be lifted, Sosa moved to a church shelter. It has made money by opening the door for customers to enter convenience stores. A local restaurant fed her in exchange for waiting tables. She hopes to work in the United States to finance an ear operation for her 9-year-old son.
“In God’s name, I’ll go,” he said. “I don’t know how, but I will.”
At the Good Samaritan shelter, many of the 73 migrants there were waiting to see a doctor. Migrants can stay for several months while they wait for appointments with immigration officials, at which point the children go to school, where they take English lessons. Migrants can also receive therapy.
Pastor Juan Fierro, who runs the shelter, said he viewed the end of Title 42 with skepticism.
“How many times have they said it would end?” he said
Miller, a writer, reported from Ciudad Juárez and El Paso. Special correspondent Gabriela Minjares in Ciudad Juárez and staff writer Hamed Aleaziz in Healdsburg, Calif., contributed to this report.