JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) – Myrna and Julio Flores fled El Salvador after gang members levied a “tax” on their home-based business and threatened harm if they didn’t pay up.
“We had a baby on the way. That motivated us to close our business, quit our jobs and come to the United States,” Myrna said, holding her now 8-month-old daughter.
The couple crossed the Rio Grande at Reynosa, Mexico, but didn’t have a chance to plead their case for asylum. The U.S. Border Patrol fingerprinted them at a processing center near McAllen, Texas, put them on an airplane to El Paso and expelled them to Mexico under the Title 42 public health rule last month.
Immigration advocates say Title 42 exposes migrants to violent crime in Mexican border cities like Juarez. The Flores couple can attest to that.
On Feb. 12, armed gunmen allegedly belonging to a cell of the Aztecas gang arrived at a church in South Central Juarez where a funeral was being held for a rival. The gunmen murdered six funeral-goers including a 12-year-old boy and wounded several other people. The Floreses were staying at a small migrant shelter in the back of that church and escaped the fusillade.
“When we went out, we had to step over the dead because there were several dead and wounded. We found refuge in the house across (the street),” Myrna said. “The church had to close to because of threats.”
Seeing days go by at a Juarez shelter, the couple is looking forward to the termination of Title 42, which news reports out of Washington, D.C., say will happen on May 23.
“We were fleeing violence and we found more violence,” Julio said. “I hope they let us apply for asylum (in the United States). Most of us are fleeing because there are too many problems in our countries. The violence in El Salvador has exploded. […] There’s a 6 p.m. curfew in most towns (because of gang violence). People cannot come out of their homes.”
Enrique Valenzuela, head of the Chihuahua Population Council (COESPO), says between 10,000 and 12,500 migrants are in Juarez waiting for the end of Title 42.
“The shelters are at 80 percent capacity. That’s between 2,000 and 3,000 people, but for every migrant that comes to us for assistance, there are four to five that do not,” said Valenzuela, whose office oversees Juarez’s Migrant Assistance Center.
The council in 2019 helped U.S. Customs and Border Protection bring order to a then-chaotic border in which flash mobs frequently materialized across from U.S. ports of entry and hustlers sold places in line.
Back then, COESPO helped manage access to international bridges and provided guidance to migrants as to what documents CBP expected of them.
This time, though, it’s still not known what shape that cooperation will take.
“At this point, we don’t know how much of an influx we will have or how the United States chooses to handle that flow,” Valenzuela said. “It’s important for people to know they have to wait for official information, for them not to be tricked that it will be an easy way into the United States now that Title 42 is going to be lifted. No, that is not the case.”
But Valenzuela said Chihuahua Gov. Maru Campos has instructed his office and other state agencies to continue helping migrants regardless of where they come from. That includes Mexican families displaced by a bloody drug war in several regions, Central and South Americans already in the city or on the way, and those whom the United States continues to expel daily.
“It’s our duty to provide humanitarian attention to people arriving at this border. We work with allies that include all three levels of government (in Mexico), the United Nations, local and international NGOs,” he said. “Our primary duty is to provide them shelter – a place to stay – and also medical and mental health screenings.”
Meantime, Myrna and Julio Flores hope to finally soon have a chance to state their case and flee the violence in El Salvador and Mexico. “Our hope is that at least they let us apply for asylum in the United States. Most of us are on the run, running from problems because our countries are too conflictive,” Julio said.