Migrants fear new rules ahead of Biden’s border visit between the US and Mexico

EL PASO, Texas (AP) — Several hundred people marched through the streets of El Paso Saturday afternoon, and upon arriving at a group of migrants huddled in front of a church, chanted “no estan solos” to them – “you are not alone.”

Around 300 migrants have taken refuge on sidewalks outside Sacred Heart Church, some afraid to seek more formal accommodation, supporters say, amid new restrictions aimed at cracking down on illegal border crossings.

This is the scene that will greet President Joe Biden on his first, politically sensitive visit to the southern border on Sunday.

The president announced last week that Cubans, Nicaraguans and Haitians will be deported to Mexico if they enter the US illegally – an extension of a policy that began with Venezuelans last year. The new rules also include offering humanitarian parole to up to 30,000 people a month from those four countries if they apply online and find a financial sponsor.

LOOK AT: Biden announces tighter border restrictions and offers legal route for 30,000 each month

Biden is scheduled to arrive in El Paso Sunday afternoon before continuing to Mexico City on Monday and Tuesday to meet with North American leaders.

Dylan Corbett, director of the nonprofit Hope Border Institute, said the city is experiencing an increasing “climate of fear.”

He said immigration officials have already begun expediting deportations to Mexico and he senses a growing level of tension and confusion.

The president’s new policy extends efforts to block Venezuelans from entering the United States, which began back in October.

Corbett said many Venezuelans have since remained in limbo, straining local resources. He said extending these guidelines to other migrants would 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. Individuals not processed cannot leave El Paso due to U.S. law enforcement checkpoints; Most have traveled thousands of miles from their homelands and refuse to give up and turn back.

“There will be vulnerable people who will be left behind,” Corbett said.

Migrant asylum seekers at the Mexico-US border, in Ciudad Juarez

Yalimar Chirinos, a 19-year-old migrant from Venezuela, displays a sign near the U.S.-Mexico border in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, January 7, 2023. The sign reads: “Hello friends, we are from Venezuela, support us with what comes from your heart.” Photo by José Luis González/REUTERS

The new restrictions mark a major change to immigration rules, which will remain in place even if the US Supreme Court ends a Trump-era health law known as Title 42, which allows US authorities to turn away asylum seekers.

El Paso has quickly become the busiest of the Border Patrol’s nine sectors along the U.S.-Mexico border, occupying the top spots during October and November. Large numbers of Venezuelans began arriving in September, attracted by the relatively easy crossing, robust safety nets and bus services on both sides of the border, and a major airport to destinations in the United States.

Venezuelans ceased to be a major presence almost overnight after Mexico, under the authority of Title 42, agreed on October 12 to accept those illegally crossing the border into the United States. Nicaraguans have since filled that void. Title 42 restrictions have been used 2.5 million times to deny migrants the right to seek asylum under US and international law to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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US authorities stopped migrants 53,247 times in November in the El Paso sector, which stretches across 264 miles of desert in western Texas and New Mexico, but much of its activity was in the city of El Paso and the suburb of Sunland Park, New Mexico. sees. The most recent monthly tally for the sector was more than three times the same period in 2021, with Nicaraguans being by far the leading nationality, followed by Mexicans, Ecuadorians, Guatemalans and Cubans.

Many gathered under blankets in front of Sacred Heart Church. The church opens its doors to families and women at night, lest all of the hundreds trapped in this limbo have to sleep outside as temperatures drop. Two buses were available for people to warm up and charge their phones. Volunteers come with food and other supplies.

Juan Tovar held a Bible in his hands, his 7-year-old daughter on his shoulders. The 32-year-old was a bus driver in Venezuela before fleeing the political and financial chaos that has engulfed his home country with his wife and two daughters.

He has friends in San Antonio who are willing to take them in, he said. He’s here to work and educate his daughters, but he’s stuck in El Paso without a permit.

“Everything is in God’s hands,” he said. “We are all human and we want to stay.”

Another Venezuelan, 22-year-old Jeremy Mejia, overheard and said he had a message he would like to convey to the President.

“President Biden, I ask God to touch your heart so we can stay in this country,” Mejia said. “I beg of you, please touch your heart and help us migrants have a better future in the United States.”

Leighton reported from El Paso and Spagat from Yuma, Arizona. AP writer Claire Galofaro contributed to this report from Louisville, Kentucky.

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