On Saturday afternoon, hundreds of people marched through the streets of El Paso. When they got to a group of migrants huddled outside a church, they sang “no estan solos” to them, which means “you are not alone.”
Advocates say that around 300 migrants have taken shelter on the sidewalks outside Sacred Heart Church. Some of them are afraid to go to more official shelters because of new rules that are meant to stop people from crossing the border illegally. This is what President Joe Biden will see when he makes his first, politically difficult trip to the southern border on Sunday.
Last week, the president said that Cubans, Nicaraguans, and Haitians who come to the U.S. illegally will be sent back to Mexico. This is an expansion of a policy that started with Venezuelans last year. Under the new rules, up to 30,000 people, a month from these four countries will be able to get humanitarian parole if they apply online and find a financial sponsor.
Biden will arrive in El Paso on Sunday afternoon and then go to Mexico City, where he will meet with North American leaders on Monday and Tuesday. Dylan Corbett, who runs the non-profit Hope Border Institute, said that the “climate of fear” in the city is getting worse.
To solve the border crisis, we have to send Biden to every border town in the country
El Paso before and after the Biden visit was announced: pic.twitter.com/U9koeL23Z5
— End Wokeness (@EndWokeness) January 8, 2023
He said that immigration enforcement agencies have already started sending more people to Mexico, and he can feel that tension and confusion are growing. The president’s new policy builds on an effort that began in October to stop Venezuelans from trying to come to the U.S.
Corbett said that since then, a lot of Venezuelans have been left in limbo, which puts a strain on the country’s resources. He said that if these policies are applied to more migrants, it will only make things worse for them on the ground.
“It’s a very difficult situation because they can’t go forward and they can’t go back,” he said. People who aren’t processed can’t leave El Paso because of checkpoints set up by U.S. law enforcement. Most of these people have traveled thousands of miles from their home countries and refuse to give up and go back.
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“There will be people in need of protection who will be left behind,” Corbett said. The new restrictions on immigration are a big change that will stay in place even if the U.S. Supreme Court throws out Title 42, a public health law from the Trump administration that lets U.S. officials turn away asylum-seekers.
El Paso has quickly become the busiest of the nine sectors of the Border Patrol along the U.S. Mexico border. In October and November, it was the busiest of the nine sectors. Large numbers of Venezuelans started coming to the U.S. in September. They were attracted by how easy it was to cross the border, how many shelters and buses there were on both sides, and how there was a major airport that went to places all over the U.S.
After Mexico agreed on Oct. 12 to accept people who crossed the border illegally into the United States under Title 42, there were a lot less Venezuelans. Since then, Nicaraguans have filled that space. 2.5 million times, restrictions from Title 42 have been used to deny migrants their right to ask for asylum under U.S. and international law, in order to stop the spread of COVID-19.
In November, U.S. officials stopped 53,247 migrants in the El Paso sector. This area covers 264 miles of desert in West Texas and New Mexico, but most of the action happens in the city of El Paso and the suburb of Sunland Park, New Mexico.
The most recent monthly number for the sector was more than three times what it was during the same time in 2021. Nicaraguans were by far the most common nationality, followed by Mexicans, Ecuadoreans, Guatemalans, and Cubans.
I’ve been calling on Pres. Biden to visit the southern border since he took office.
— John Kennedy (@SenJohnKennedy) January 6, 2023
Outside of Sacred Heart Church, a lot of people gathered under blankets. The church lets families and women in at night so that not all of the hundreds of people stuck in this situation have to sleep outside in the cold. There were two buses where people could get warm and charge their phones. Volunteers bring food and other things with them.
Juan Tovar was holding a Bible, and his daughter, who was 7 years old, was on his shoulders. The 32-year-old used to drive a bus in Venezuela, but he and his wife and two daughters had to leave because of the political and economic chaos in their home country.
He said that he has friends in San Antonio who are ready to take them in. He wants to work and send his daughters to school, but he can’t because he doesn’t have a permit.
“Everything is in the hands of God,” he said. “We are all humans and we want to stay.” Jeremy Mejia, who is 22 years old and also from Venezuela, heard what was going on and said he had a message for the president.
“President Biden, I ask God to touch your heart so we can stay in this country,” Mejia said. “I ask you to please touch your heart and help us migrants have a better future in the U.S.”
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