EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Confused and hungry, Central American families who chanced the U.S. border at South Texas continue being expelled to Mexico once flown 800 miles west to El Paso.
Many say they were lied to by smugglers who told them the United States had changed its laws and would let them in if they had children. Others say they were told by U.S. officials they were being flown to the interior of the country but instead found themselves in a different part of the border and, within hours, in Mexico.
“We came because we had the need to work. We need help for our children,” said a young father from Guatemala as he and his family walked from El Paso to Juarez, Mexico. “They lied to us. They told us they would take us north. They never told us they would send us back.”
Despite seemingly widespread confusion in Latin America, U.S. federal officials say the U.S. border remains closed to new unauthorized migrants. Individuals and families crossing the border are subject to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Title 42 order to prevent cross-border spread of COVID-19 and sent back to Mexico as soon as possible.
Unaccompanied migrant children are being referred to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement facilities usually within 72 hours of entry. Some families in South Texas are reportedly being released to the interior of the United States, though it remains unclear how many and why.
Also, in late 2018 and early 2019, some 72,000 migrants who alleged persecution and insecurity in their home countries petitioned for asylum and are now being phased out of a program (MPP) that forced them to wait in Mexico. In El Paso, 100 a day are being admitted and sent to a private nonprofit shelter.
But new would-be refugees and economic migrants are being subjected to Title 42 even if they come with small children.
“We just want to work, we don’t want to stay,” said a mother from Guatemala expelled to Juarez via the Paso del Norte International Bridge. “They lent us money to go over there (the United States). Now we have that debt. … We barely make enough money to eat (in Guatemala). All we want is to work, not to live (in the U.S.). We don’t want to stay to live forever over there (the U.S.). All we want is to give our children a better future.”
The woman said she is so poor that she couldn’t afford to send her son to school. She said she was told to get on the airplane to fly her to the interior of the United States. Instead, she wound up in El Paso and now in Mexico. “They should have told us” that wasn’t the case, she said.
Santos, a man from Honduras who crossed into the U.S. south of McAllen, Texas, last week, said the smugglers lied to him.
“They said they had (changed) the law, and then this happened,” Santos said as he sought help at Juarez’s Migrant Assistance Center. Asked if he would try to cross the border again, he hesitated to answer. “It’s difficult to attempt it. I don’t have any money. I have nothing.” He said he’d likely go back to Honduras.
U.S. authorities are sending groups of between 30 to 40 migrants back to Juarez every day; sometimes as many as 80, said Enrique Valenzuela, the head of a Chihuahua state agency that oversees the Migrant Assistance Center.
“Some of them say they arrived (to El Paso) in a flight and they were sent here across the border. Our job is to provide attention to them and keep them out of harms way. We know they are vulnerable because they are in a place they don’t know,” Valenzuela said.
He said migrant families are given a “small meal,” then routed to shelters in Juarez where they can decide what to do next. “Some of them ultimately decide to go back to their home countries, and this happens in some cases, of course,” he said.