EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Asylum seekers waiting in Mexico for their initial appointment in the United States are getting increasingly restless, as no numbers have been called in more than a week, Juarez authorities said.
“We are talking to people and trying to calm them down because they are growing impatient and frustrated. … They want to know if they should stay or go somewhere else or just try to cross by some other means,” said Enrique Valenzuela, head of the Chihuahua State Population Council (COESPO), which manages the appointments list for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in Juarez.
Valenzuela said his staff is asking the mostly Cuban and Central American migrants to be patient and wait for U.S. authorities to catch up on a processing backlog. COESPO has registered 17,690 asylum seekers since March, and CBP has called 12,088 so far for initial appointments. The problem is that no one has been called since July 20, and the last time there was even a three-day lapse in the appointments, some 200 migrants tried to rush the Paso del Norte Bridge. CBP officers in riot gear stopped them and closed the port of entry for several hours.
Valenzuela said he’s telling migrants about CBP’s backlog and reassuring them they’re not being ignored on purpose. “We tell them that it’s better to wait and cross into the United States in an orderly manner, through the established system so they can present their (asylum) claim,” he said.
In a statement emailed Monday to KTSM, a Customs and Border Protection official said the agency’s processing system and facilities are at capacity.
“The number of inadmissible individuals CBP is able to process varies based upon case complexity; available resources; medical needs; translation requirements; holding/detention space; overall port volume; and ongoing enforcement actions,” the official said. “As we have done for several years when our ports of entry reach capacity, we have to manage the queues and individuals presenting without documents may need to wait in Mexico as CBP officers work to process those already within our facilities.”
And screening asylum seekers is only one of many tasks CBP manages on a daily basis, officials said. Agency personnel have to man the ports of entry — including the commercial lanes that are the lifeline of the region’s maquiladora industry — be on the lookout for drug smugglers and foreigners who are inadmissible to enter the United States, the officials said.
Further, as CBP and other agencies have come under scrutiny over the conditions and wait times endured by detainees, officials want to make sure they’re not compromising the safety of detainees.
El Paso immigration attorney Carlos Spector said he was told last week that no migrants were being called because there was no room at detention facilities. “It’s hard to believe because arrests have been down, so there should be less people detained,” he said.
In Juarez, Valenzuela said the wait has already taken its toll on many migrants who have opted to request a bus ride home. “About one-third want to go back to their countries, others are thinking about filing for refugee status in Mexico. We estimate that of the 5,500 people still on the list, maybe 3,500 are still here… we know some have left because they don’t come when their number is called,” he said.
Jordano, a Cuban migrant who has been waiting in Mexico three months for his asylum hearing in El Paso, Texas, said Juarez is too dangerous.
“About 100 meters (110 yards) from right here, on that corner, they shot a Mexican man to death three days ago. Right there, where anybody could’ve been walking along, even women, they could’ve been struck by a bullet,” Jordano said. “In front of the apartment I’m renting here they stabbed a man in the throat and they shot up a truck. … We don’t want the U.S. government to return us to Mexico because we Cubans are always at risk here of being kidnapped for money.”
According to Juarez news reports, nine Cuban or Central American migrants have died in that city since last October in incidents ranging from heatstroke while trying to cross the desert west of Juarez, shootings, stabbings and even traffic accidents.
(Roberto Delgado contributed to this report.)