Frustration Among Migrants at the US-Mexico Border as COVID Restrictions Maintain

By José Luis González and Ted Hesson

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – When Vladimir Castellanos learned that the COVID-19 restrictions preventing him and other migrants from seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border might not end this week, he said he was cheated.

Castellanos and his brother are Venezuelans, and they were among dozens of migrants gathered on both sides of the Rio Grande River Monday night in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, and El Paso, Texas, some building small fires to keep warm as temperatures dropped to zero. .

They had traveled there in anticipation that the COVID-19 restrictions, known as Title 42, would be lifted Wednesday as ordered by a US court. Title 42 allows US authorities to quickly remove migrants to Mexico and other countries without the possibility of applying for asylum in the US.

But in a last-minute move, the US Supreme Court on Monday allowed Title 42 to remain in effect temporarily pending a legal challenge by Republican state attorneys general seeking to extend the measures.

President Joe Biden’s administration asked the court Tuesday to let the asylum restrictions end. But citing the holiday season and logistical concerns caused by Monday’s order, he asked the court to leave the policy in effect until after December 27.

“I see it as a joke, to give us hope and then, like a child, fool us and tell us that they are going to postpone it,” Castellanos said, adding that it was unfair that migrants from other countries could enter the United States. while Venezuelans were prohibited.

Under Title 42, the United States can generally only expel migrants from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Venezuela to Mexico. Mexico will not accept Nicaraguans, for example, or immigrants from certain South American countries, who have generally been allowed to enter the United States to continue their immigration cases.

Since Biden took office in January 2021, about half of the record 4 million migrants found at the US-Mexico border have been removed under Title 42, while the other half have been allowed enter the country.

BARBED WIRE BARRIER

The surge in people crossing the border has overwhelmed some border communities. The city of El Paso, Texas, declared a state of emergency over the weekend as hundreds of migrants were on the streets.

The migrants interviewed by Reuters were a handful of the tens of thousands estimated to be waiting on the Mexican side of the border for a chance to cross.

Early Tuesday, dozens of Texas National Guard soldiers in camouflage uniforms and helmets deployed to the border between Ciudad Juárez and El Paso in armored vehicles. The troops, part of a larger deployment of 400 troops, unrolled long stretches of barbed wire to create a barrier along the river.

Title 42 was originally issued in March 2020 under former Republican President Donald Trump at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Biden administration, a Democrat, left it in place for more than a year and expanded it in October to include Venezuelans in expulsions to Mexico and also allowed up to 24,000 Venezuelans to enter the United States by air if allowed. apply from abroad.

Still, the Biden administration says it wants Title 42 to end after US health authorities said in April that the order was no longer necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

A federal judge ruled in November that Title 42 was illegal and ordered it lifted on December 21, siding with immigrant asylum seekers who sued the government over the policy.

But a group of 19 states with Republican attorneys general filed a legal challenge to uphold Title 42 by trying to intervene in the lawsuit. The US Supreme Court said Monday that the restrictions could be in place temporarily to give the parties in the case time to respond to the Republican request.

The Biden administration said Tuesday that it plans to “increase resources” at the border and use existing legal authorities “to implement new policies in response to the temporary disruption that will likely occur when the Title 42 orders end.”

The Supreme Court will now decide whether to halt the policy while the states’ legal challenge unfolds.

Some Venezuelans on the Mexican side of the border still held out hope for change.

“I can’t give up that easily,” said Alexis Farfán, a 26-year-old Venezuelan migrant, who has been staying at an LGBTQI+ shelter in Tijuana since he was expelled from the United States earlier this month. “I trust in God that I will make it to the other side.”

(Reporting by José Luis González in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico and Ted Hesson in Washington; Additional reporting by Jackie Botts in Oaxaca City, Mexico and Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Mica Rosenberg and Aurora Ellis)

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