EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Advocates in El Paso and Southern New Mexico say they are ready to assist large numbers of migrants once the Biden administration stops expelling asylum-seekers under the Title 42 health rule. That is something they hope will begin to happen by the end of this month.
The advocates on Thursday released a report claiming the policy enacted in March 2020 to prevent the cross-border spread of COVID-19 is causing more harm than good. They say it has exposed families and individuals to violent crime in Mexico and forced many others to hire smugglers and get back into the United States in a clandestine manner.
When she visited El Paso last month, Vice President Harris said the Biden administration was “committed to ensuring an orderly and humane immigration system,” states the joint report by Hope Border Institute and Human Rights First. “But the Biden administration’s continued use of President Trump’s policy of blocking people seeking asylum at U.S. ports of entry and expelling those who cross the border is neither orderly nor humane.”
The report states advocates interviewed 70 asylum-seeking families and adults in Juarez, Mexico last month, many of them expelled under Title 42, and several reporting becoming victims of crime and violence there.
The groups are calling for an immediate halt to all Title 42 expulsions of migrants to Mexico, for federal immigration agencies to “end mistreatment” of migrants in their custody, and to utilize the resources of community-based shelters and refugee services. The groups are also seeking “redress” to expelled families and individuals in the form of psychological support and legal counsel, once admitted back.
The alleged mistreatment mentioned in the report consists of confining migrants in so-called hieleras – rooms where the refrigerated air is set too cold.
“The continued use of Title 42 to block access to the U.S. asylum system and return migrants to danger in Mexico is sowing confusion and subjecting families and adults to inhumane violence. It is far past time for the Biden administration to fully restore asylum protection at our borders,” said Kennji Kizuka, associate director of Human Rights First.
The interviews the groups conducted in Juarez revealed just how vulnerable people from Central America and elsewhere are when sent to Mexican border cities where they don’t know anyone and are easily identifiable to criminal organizations. They also yielded some shocking allegations against U.S. law enforcement.
“They are easy targets,” Kizuka said, explaining how they’re gathered in a group by Border Patrol at the center of the bridge, have shoes without shoelaces that were taken away by Border Patrol and wear the same brand of facemask. “It’s clear who they are. They’re obvious targets and kidnapped and exploited after their return to Juarez.”
A Honduran woman and her 7-year-old daughter flown from the Rio Grande Valley to El Paso told the interviewers they were held captive in a house for two months after being expelled to Juarez and were looking for a place to sleep.
Another woman said a man imprisoned her and her 6-year-old son in a house and attempted to rape her. They later managed to escape through a bathroom window from the home were other captive women stayed behind.
A Salvadoran woman and her two children also told the interviewers they escaped from kidnappers after 10 days in captivity in Juarez. She said the kidnappers fired shots as they ran away but missed. The woman claims U.S. immigration officers mocked her when she crossed the border again and begged not to be returned to Mexico with her children. The woman alleges Mexican immigration officers stole her cellphone after she was walked back to Juarez.
Human Rights First said it interviewed a Salvadoran woman who claims she tried to petition for asylum at the El Paso port of entry but was turned back by a U.S. immigration officer who allegedly told her to “pay a coyote (smuggler)” instead.
A Honduran man said a U.S. Border Patrol agent told him he would have “better luck” trying to enter the country illegally at night. When the man followed the advice and tried to cross by himself, smugglers kidnapped him for two weeks, until his family paid a ransom, the report alleges.
When asked for comment regarding the allegations, the CBP Media Relations Office responded with an email quoting the agency’s safety and detention standards.
“When it is within CBP control, officers should maintain holding room temperature within a reasonable and comfortable range for both detainees and officers. Under no circumstances will officers use temperature control in a punitive manner.” The temperature in CBP facilities in the Southwest typically ranges between 68 and 74 degrees.
The email also mentioned that “a high percentage of individuals in our custody come from living situations that do not have the same amenities that are commonplace in the United States. Central air conditioning is one of these and people living their entire lives in tropical climate may be surprised upon spending their first night in an air-conditioned room.”
A CBP spokesman further said the report mentioned the term “freezing temperatures” repeatedly. “We can confidently push back and state that our facilities are not maintained at 32 degrees Fahrenheit or below,” said Public Affairs Officer Matthew Dyman.
‘We’re ready to help’
Hanna Hollandbyrd, policy specialist at Hope Border Institute, said in addition to the questionable public health concerns holding Title 42 in place, Biden administration officials have cited a lack of room to accommodate migrants should the expulsions end.
“The policy was never based on public health necessity. The argument about capacity doesn’t hold true. The resources are there,” she said, adding that nonprofits in the El Paso-Las Cruces-Deming, New Mexico area can provide for up to 2,000 migrants at a time. “We have built a lot of resources. Now that we have this capacity and community willingness to do this, we need a clear plan from the Biden administration.”
She and Jessica Corley, an Albuquerque, New Mexico, advocate, said nonprofit volunteers have been trained in COVID-19 protocols and their shelters meet health standards.
The advocates say that, even as insider reports from Washington, D.C., suggest Biden will ban the expulsion of family units on or after July 31, the administration officials they have been in contact with don’t know what’s really coming.
“Hope Border Institute and our community are ready to be partners, but we can’t be the only ones preparing. We need the Administration to meet us halfway. We need to know the plan,” Hollandbyrd said.
She also said the message Vice President Harris carried to Central America, the “don’t come, the borders are closed” public relations campaign, won’t work.
“The solution is not to tell people ‘don’t do it.’ That doesn’t work. That never works,” she said. “We will not be saying ‘don’t come’ because it won’t work and it has hurt a lot of people. It will hurt a lot of people” if it’s not done away with.