Court ruling extends unequal treatment of asylum seekers | Policy
EAGLE PASS, Texas (AP) — As the sun set over the Rio Grande, about 120 Cubans, Colombians and Venezuelans who were wading through waist-deep water climbed into Border Patrol vehicles, which will soon be released to the United States to pursue their immigration cases.
Across the border, in the Mexican town of Piedras Negras, Honduran families huddled together in a part of downtown with cracked sidewalks, narrow streets and few people, unsure where to spend the night for the only refuge in town was full.
The opposing fortunes illustrate the dual nature of US border enforcement under pandemic rules, known as Title 42 and named after a 1944 public health law. President Joe Biden wanted to end those rules on Monday, but a federal judge in Louisiana issued a national injunction who keeps them intact.
The US government has deported more than 1.9 million migrants under Title 42, denying them the ability to seek asylum as permitted by US law and international treaties in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 .
But title 42 is not applied uniformly across nationalities. For example, Mexico agrees to take back migrants from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Mexico. For other nationalities, however, high costs, poor diplomatic relations, and other considerations make it difficult for the United States to airlift migrants to their home countries under Title 42. Instead, they are usually released to the United States to seek asylum or other forms of legal status. .
Hondurans in Piedras Negras ask Cubans arriving at the bus station for money, knowing that the Cubans will not need pesos as they will be crossing the border directly. While Mexico agreed in April to take some Cubans and Nicaraguans deported under Title 42, the vast majority are released in the United States
“It was inside and out,” Javier Fuentes, 20, said of his one-night stay in a rented house in Piedras Negras. On Sunday morning, he and two other Cuban men crossed the Rio Grande and on a paved road for about an hour until they found a border patrol vehicle in Eagle Pass, a Texas town of 25,000 where the migrants cross the river to the edge of a public golf course.
Overnight rains had raised the water to about neck level for most adults, a possible explanation for the absence of groups numbering in the dozens or even more than 100 that frequent the area for several days.
‘The morning is starting slowly,’ a Border Patrol agent said as he waved to Texas National Guard troops watching four Peruvians, including a 7-month-old boy who crossed with his parents after several days crammed into a rented room in Piedras Negras with 17 migrants.
As the water receded to waist level, about three dozen migrants congregated in a public riverside park that also attracted local residents of Piedras Negras, which considers itself the birthplace of nachos. Infants and young children joined a mostly Honduran crowd to cross. A Honduran woman was eight months pregnant and in obvious pain.
Eagle Pass, a sprawling town of warehouses and ramshackle homes that many major retailers have overlooked, is one of the busiest locations in the Del Rio Border Patrol Sector, which includes approximately 250 miles (400 kilometers) of sparsely populated shores. Last year, around 15,000 migrants, mostly Haitians, congregated in the nearby town of Del Rio, which is not much larger than Eagle Pass. Grain fields are pretty much all that separates the two towns from San Antonio, about a three-hour drive east.
The relative ease of crossing – migrants cross the river in minutes, often without paying a smuggler – and the perception that it is relatively safe on the Mexican side have made the remote region a major migration route.
Texas’ Rio Grande Valley has long been the busiest of the nine Border Patrol sectors on the Mexican border, but Del Rio has slipped to second place this year. Yuma, Arizona, another place known for its relative safety and ease of crossing, moved up to third place.
Del Rio and Yuma rank sixth and seventh in number of agents among the nine sectors, reflecting how Border Patrol personnel has long delayed changes in migration flows.
Other parts of the border are less patrolled than Del Rio, a plus for migrants trying to evade capture, but are more rugged and remote, said Jon Anfinsen, president of the Del Rio sector chapter of the National Border Patrol Council.
Anfinsen calls the Del Rio area “a kind of middle ground” for migrants looking to balance the allure of remote areas with safety.
Cristian Salgado, who sleeps on the streets of Piedras Negras with his wife and 5-year-old son after fleeing Honduras, said the Mexican border town is “one of the few places where you can more or less live in peace”.
But his excitement about the Biden administration’s plans to lift Title 42 on Monday evaporated with the judge’s ruling. “Now there is no more hope,” he said.
Hondurans were stopped nearly 16,000 times at the border in April, with just over half resulting in deportation under Title 42. The rest could seek asylum in the United States if they express their fear of returning home.
But the Cubans got away with it much better. They were arrested more than 35,000 times in April, and only 451, or just 1%, were processed under Title 42.
“Cubans automatically get in,” said Joel Gonzalez, 34, of Honduras, who tried to evade officers for three days at Eagle Pass before getting caught and kicked out. Officers told him that asylum in the United States was no longer available.
Isis Peña, 45, had refused the offer of a fellow Honduran to cross the river. The woman called from San Antonio, saying she had been released without even being asked if she wanted to apply for asylum. The woman now lives in New York.
Peña tried to sign herself the next day, an experience she doesn’t want to repeat for fear of drowning. After about four hours in custody, an officer told him, “There is no asylum for Honduras.”