EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The day Title 42 was supposed to end, migrants formed a quarter-mile-long line on the U.S. bank of the Rio Grande waiting for border agents to pick them up and listen to their asylum claim.
Many of the migrants were Nicaraguans, Ecuadorians and Colombians not amenable to expulsion under the Trump-era public health law that the U.S. Supreme Court has put on hold until at least Dec. 27. But others were Guatemalans and Venezuelans who had already made the expensive and difficult trip to the U.S. border and were unwilling to wait any longer.
On Wednesday, they could be seen rolling their pants up to their knees, walking across the Rio Grande, up a steep concrete embankment and to the back of the line near the Stanton Street International Bridge.
“We told them not to cross. We told them they would send them back, but they didn’t listen,” said Eduardo, a Venezuelan who has been surviving in Juarez for two months doing odd jobs to pay for food and rent.
But many did listen. Of the 1,000 or so migrants who approached the Rio Grande throughout the day Wednesday, only between 500 and 700 made it across to El Paso, federal officials in El Paso confirmed.
The others, like Eduardo and William, said they will wait in Juarez, Mexico, for another week. “I arrived here last night. I am, of course, disappointed, but I did not come so far to be sent back. I will wait. I don’t know what my life will be like until then, but we have been surviving so far,” said William, a Venezuelan from the Carabobo region.
Roxana and Beatriz, two Venezuelan women who arrived in Juarez with their children on Tuesday, also said they only found out about the court-ordered stay on Title 42 when they approached the river.
“All the Venezuelans who are crossing now are being expelled. They don’t want us there,” Roxana said. Her travel companion said the two families rode buses from South America to the Mexico-Guatemala border. From there, they rode on top of trains to northern Mexico. “It was horrible. It is so cold. What we are living here today, we don’t wish on anybody else. […] We just want a better life.”
Mexican and U.S. officials say some 20,000 migrants are in Juarez waiting for the end of Title 42. According to the dozen or so migrants interviewed Wednesday on both sides of the river, more have arrived in the last few hours, and many are still on the way. Most of them said poverty drove them out of their countries.
“I came here because of need. I hope they let me in,” said Maria, a former street vendor in Ecuador. “I would like to work here because in my country there is no work … also to give my child school and my mom a job, too.”
Others said Title 42 did not figure in their decision to come and believe they have a strong case for asylum.
“Since 2006, I have been persecuted because of my work […] All I did was help the children and for those who are vulnerable,” said Juan Guillermo Cruz, a former victims’ rights activist from Medellin, Colombia. “We stood up for the rights of victims of the (guerrillas) and the self-defense forces in Colombia. We have received threats often and now that there is a leftist government in power, we were not safe.”
Federal officials in El Paso said anyone who crosses the border without authorization is amenable to administrative sanctions, and those who have no legal basis to remain in the country are subject to removal under Title 8 authority, regardless of whether Title 42 is in place or not.
DPS explains Texas Army National Guard role in El Paso
A group of migrants walked down a ramp to the Mexican embankment of the Rio Grande levee on Wednesday and studied a row of jeeps and Humvees vehicles parked behind concertina wire on the U.S. side and men in military fatigues holding rifles. Some of the migrants smirked and kept walking along the Mexican side. “We’re going to take water so they can drink – the military men,” one said.
The soldiers are among the 400 members of the Texas Army National Guard that arrived in El Paso on Monday. The guard put up the barbed wire overnight below a gap in the border wall near the former Border Patrol West Bridge temporary processing camp.
Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman Eliot Torres said the Guard’s presence is meant to route migrants toward the Border Patrol.
“One big concern is enforcing the law,” Torres said. “Another concern is the humanitarian side. These people are coming into El Paso, they have no shelter, they have no food, they don’t know where to go. The best thing to do is for us to assist with the situation so they can get properly processed and then seek shelter.”
Torres said the guard has reported only one incident this week. That was a group of four to five migrants trying to go under the concertina wire to enter the United States. He said guard members lifted the razor wire before the migrants got hurt and turned them over to Border Patrol.
“The public may perceive us as going after people for no reason, but we have a reason. We’re trying to make sure they are safe,” Torres said.
But migrant advocates such as Fernando Garcia, executive director of Border Network for Human Rights, do not welcome the guard’s presence in El Paso.
“We are outraged to learn of the arrival of the Texas National Guard at our border, who have staged military vehicles and razor wire at the (Rio Grande),” Garcia said. “We demand the immediate withdrawal of the Texas National Guard from the river and the halt of any immigration strategy that further militarizes our border. The federal government must act swiftly to retain Gov. Greg Abbott’s illegal immigration enforcement policies.”