“In late August, Nephtalie and her husband, still waiting in Chiapas, began to hear a rumor spreading around the Haitian migrant population living across Mexico. From interviews this week with other migrants in Del Rio, and conversations with attorneys who have met with dozens more, it seems that many people had the same experience. The rumor went like this: First, information went around that, while most of the border was closed, U.S. immigration authorities were allowing people to cross and ask for asylum in Mexicali — on the border with Calexico, California — and in Acuña, the Mexican city across from Del Rio. (This was not true, but it spread like wildfire among people yearning for a glimmer of hope.) Second, the rumor said that Sept. 16 would be the best day to travel. That would be Mexico’s Independence Day, and migrants figured that the Mexican authorities, who have bowed to U.S. pressure to more stringently police immigrants in Mexico, would be preoccupied, allowing them to travel within the country unimpeded northward. Finally, the bus routes to Acuña were cheaper than to other spots along the border, like Mexicali. So, as el Día de la Independencia de México arrived, thousands of people who had heard the rumors — by word of mouth or on WhatsApp or on Haitian social media — began traveling to Acuña to cross into Del Rio.
When I asked one Haitian man at a gas station in Del Rio, “Why did you choose to cross from Acunã to Del Rio?” he replied: “Where is that?” Like many, he had probably simply followed others along what sounded like an opportunity to finally be accepted in the United States.
But the stakes of following such a rumor only to be faced with the reality of a closed border are tragic: Most of the Haitians in Del Rio today left Haiti years ago. Now, after traveling thousands of miles with the hope that they could eventually gain asylum in the U.S., many are instead being returned to the very island they fled.”
“The number of migrants apprehended at the border isn’t going down this summer, even as the heat makes the journey to the U.S. more dangerous. Instead, it has reached a 21-year high — and there’s a record number of unaccompanied children arriving, too.”
“Migrants for years have been pushed to seek refuge in the U.S. because of conditions in their home countries. But over the past 16 months, the numbers have increased as part of the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic and as migrants face even more dire economic circumstances.
“The pandemic probably is a big part of it,” said Andrew Rudman, director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center, a non-partisan organization that engages in research on global issues. “You’ve got just a lot more people out of work and suffering because of the economic impact and that probably increases, surely increases, the pull factor.”
The Biden administration has continued to use the Trump-era public health order, known as Title 42, to expel migrants without allowing them to seek asylum. And experts and analysts say that this, too, is likely a major factor for the high number of apprehensions recorded each month. A large portion of migrants crossing the border are repeat crossers, who keep trying because there isn’t any real punishment when they get caught.
In June, for example, more than 188,000 migrants were apprehended at the border. Of those, 34 percent had tried to cross at least once before in the last 12 months, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection figures. That’s compared with an average recidivism rate of 14 percent for fiscal years 2014 to 2019.
Biden continues to turn away most of the migrants encountered at the border through Title 42, including single adults and many families, but has made exceptions for unaccompanied children to stay for humanitarian reasons. It has led some parents to send their children to the U.S. alone, knowing that the administration will allow them to stay, according to immigrant advocates.
Democratic lawmakers, immigrant advocates and public health experts for months have been urging the Biden administration to end its use of Title 42, arguing that it is unlawful, inhumane and not justified by public health. Biden officials were planning to begin phasing out Title 42, but those plans were derailed given the fast-spreading Delta variant of the coronavirus and the increase in apprehensions.”
“The US could soon be facing dual migrant crises stemming from unrest in Haiti and Cuba. In response, the Biden administration has preemptively warned migrants not to try to come to the US by boat.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas recently confirmed that any migrants intercepted by the US Coast Guard off US shores will not be allowed to enter the country — they will be turned back or, if they express fear of returning to their home countries, repatriated to a third country.
“The time is never right to attempt migration by sea,” Mayorkas said in a press conference earlier this month. “To those who risk their lives doing so, this risk is not worth taking. Allow me to be clear: If you take to the sea, you will not come to the United States.”
The policy isn’t new. Past administrations, both Republican and Democratic, have employed this interdiction approach to prevent Caribbean migrants from reaching US shores. But although it was always done under the pretense of protecting migrants from the very real dangers of that journey, it resulted in many Haitians being returned to certain peril in their home country over the years and, under the administrations of Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, languishing in what one federal judge called a “prison camp” at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where they were held after being intercepted at sea.”
“The vast majority of migrants who passed through Guantanamo were returned to Haiti. A much smaller percentage were able to be paroled into the United States because they passed their asylum interviews.”
“Biden is now allowing a trickle of asylum seekers to enter the U.S. from Mexico, but it’s unclear why some people may come and others may not.
The Associated Press reported in June that the Biden administration had quietly recruited six humanitarian groups to recommend which migrants should be allowed into the U.S. and initiate the asylum-seeking process. Only one of those groups—the International Rescue Committee—was publicly identified. According to the A.P.’s anonymous sources, the others are the London-based Save the Children, the American organizations HIAS and Kids in Need of Defense, and two Mexican groups, Asylum Access and the Institute for Women in Migration. Though the U.S. government has final say over who receives asylum, it relies on those organizations’ referrals.
Officials have not publicly confirmed that these are the responsible groups, and the criteria the organizations are using to select lucky entrants are just as fuzzy. The administration has reportedly asked them to prioritize migrants with serious medical issues, migrants who face imminent danger, and members of marginalized groups. But no guidance has been published, and many of the selected migrants “fall outside those categories.”
Under domestic and international law, all migrants who present themselves at U.S. ports of entry or on American soil are granted the opportunity to make asylum claims. Eligibility for asylum hinges on proving you’ve been persecuted on the grounds of race, religion, nationality, membership in certain other social groups, or political opinion. That process ground to a halt during the pandemic, after the Trump administration implemented Title 42. This policy—which Biden has maintained—allows Customs and Border Patrol officials to expel migrants immediately upon arrival and bar them from arguing their vulnerability before U.S. immigration officials.”
“In theory, these sites, run by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are a way station for kids who are waiting to be reunited with relatives or other connections in the U.S. In fact, staffing problems and other issues left many kids stuck in limbo for up to a month or more in conditions that federal whistleblowers, lawyers, and the children themselves have described as filthy and chaotic.
“For months, the children we have met with at the EISs have shared one horror story after the next,” Leecia Welch, senior director of child welfare and legal advocacy at the National Center for Youth Law, said in a press release. “Children have described spending the bulk of the day on or around their cots crammed in massive tents with hundreds of other children, suffering escalating anxiety attacks from the stress of the harsh EIS environment, going weeks without clean clothes or underwear, and spending months without going outside for some fresh air. While some of the unsafe EIS facilities have been closed, mega tent encampments and mining mancamp sites like Fort Bliss and Pecos remain open with no end in sight.””
“Over 14,000 unaccompanied minors are now in the care of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Detained minors in their testimonials for the case described limited time outside, sporadic showers, and being served inadequate or unsafe food, including raw chicken and foul-smelling hamburgers. A 13-year-old Honduran recounted being “locked up all day” during five days in Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) custody. A 14-year-old Guatemalan girl said that detainees at a facility in Houston had to drink expired milk when they ran out of water. “I was never allowed to make a phone call while I was there,” said a 17-year-old Honduran who was in CBP custody for 11 days. Minors reported receiving few details about how long they would be in custody and many were transferred to other facilities with little notice or explanation.
Those conditions have left detained minors despondent. “I used to be able to cope with my anxiety and breathe through it, but now I feel like I’ve given up,” said a 17-year-old from Guatemala. “I feel like I’ll never get out of here.” One child was placed on suicide watch and another described how difficult it was to get an appointment with a counselor, though many girls in detention “have thoughts of cutting themselves.” Teens have resorted to cutting themselves with their identification cards since employees at one facility banned pencils, pens, toothbrushes, and even the metal nose clips of N95 face masks over concerns of self-harm, according to testimony and worker accounts.
“There is no one here I can talk to about my case,” said a 17-year-old Honduran detainee. “There’s also no one here I can talk to when I’m feeling sad. There’s no one here; I just talk to God. It helps me and I cry. It would help if I could have a Bible.””
“The Biden administration is reversing a series of Trump-era immigration rulings that narrowed asylum standards by denying protection to victims of domestic violence and those who said they were threatened by gangs in their home country.”
“The US can anticipate these spikes, which are symptoms of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Central America’s “Northern Triangle” — Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. For years, these countries have suffered from gang violence, government corruption, extortion, and some of the highest rates of poverty and violent crime in the world. The pandemic-related economic downturn and a pair of hurricanes late last year that devastated Honduras and Guatemala, in particular, have only exacerbated those longstanding problems. Many of the migrants arriving on the southern border, sometimes in large caravans, likely felt they had no choice but to seek refuge elsewhere”
“The US doesn’t have a system in place to ensure that migrants are treated humanely and in accordance with federal law when these spikes occur. Children have consequently been kept in jail-like holding facilities operated by US Customs and Border Protection beyond the 72-hour legal time limit. That is why the Obama administration, the Trump administration, and the Biden administration have been condemned for keeping “kids in cages.””
“several immigrant advocacy groups and think tanks have devised potential frameworks to improve migrant processing. Republican Sen. John Cornyn and Democrat Sen. Kyrsten Sinema have also drafted a bill that would implement related reforms, though it’s not clear whether the legislation will draw significant support from members of either party. Those strategies will become all the more important as the Biden administration begins to lift pandemic-related restrictions at the southern border and resumes processing migrants en masse.”
“Migrants typically get information about the conditions on the border from people in their network who have successfully made the journey, rather than from top-down declarations from US officials. Smugglers have also sought to spread misinformation about the Biden administration’s plans to process asylum seekers. Immigrant advocates on the border have reported hearing rumors spreading that migrants staying in certain camps will be processed or that the border would open at midnight.
These rumors have survived on the hopes of people who have long aspired to migrate. Many of the people arriving on the southern border are fleeing dangerous or unlivable conditions and felt they had no choice but to leave their home countries.”
“Biden has continued much of the Trump administration’s approach to immigration: separating families, overfilling detention facilities, and plainly telling people to stay away. One such holdover policy is Title 42.
Invoked by Trump in March 2020, Title 42 is a section of the Public Health Service Act that grants federal health officials broad discretion to enact disease mitigation measures. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) used it to issue an order barring certain kinds of arrivals to the U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada while permitting other forms of international movement to continue. It allows Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officials to expel migrants immediately upon arrival.”
“Migrants expelled from the U.S. under Title 42 face hostile conditions similar to those subjected to another Trump policy, the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP). Known as “Remain in Mexico,” MPP relegated asylum seekers south of the border while they awaited decisions in their immigration cases. There, many faced murder, rape, and torture. Biden did away with the policy just weeks ago, but his continued operation of Title 42 contradicts his campaign promise to “restore our asylum laws so that they do what they should be designed to do.”
Those dangers to migrants continue under Biden. “These individuals are being pushed back into very dangerous environments in northern Mexico,” says Zak. “Migrants are at very serious risk of being exploited by gangs and traffickers.” He adds that “Human Rights First has documented 492 instances of publicly reported attacks and kidnappings against asylum seekers in Mexico since Biden took office,” many against those expelled under Title 42.
In spite of this harsh approach, Title 42 has likely exacerbated the very issue it sought to tackle: the high volume of asylum seekers crossing the border. Zak says that the recidivism rate—individuals who were apprehended, expelled, and apprehended again by CBP—has “skyrocketed.” That rate “tended to hover around 10 percent” prior to Title 42 and has hit 38 percent as of May 2021. Zak says this is partially because “individuals (particularly single adults) are expelled extremely quickly,” thus encouraging multiple crossings. There is also no formal penalty for repeat crossings under Title 42. With that uptick in mind, the reasons for increased apprehensions at the border become clearer—and Biden’s approach to immigration less so.”