EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – A rumor that U.S. authorities had changed their policy toward asylum seekers prompted a large group of migrants to occupy a border crossing Tuesday night, forcing Customs and Border Protection to shut it down for eight hours.
Trouble started brewing around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, when Cuban migrants rushed past the Mexican toll-collection booths at the Paso del Norte Bridge linking Downtown Juarez to Downtown El Paso.
“They were under the erroneous impression they would be allowed to pass (into the United States). I don’t know if someone played a joke on them or if they really had those expectations,” said Enrique Valenzuela, head of the Chihuahua State Population Council, which for the past two years has been dealing with migrants from all over the world who’ve arrived to Juarez with the intent of seeking asylum in the U.S.
CBP closed the U.S. vehicle and pedestrian accesses, but more migrants continued to arrive at the border crossing. At one point, 250 to 300 people gathered in the middle of the bridge over the Rio Grande, Valenzuela said.
A KTSM 9 News video shows migrants lined up at the middle of the bridge shouting “Queremos pasar! Queremos pasar!” (We want to pass! We want to pass!)
“We talked to several of them. We told them this was not the way to do things, that this was not going to benefit them in any way, that CBP has not changed its policies and that Title 42 is still in place,” Valenzuela said.
Title 42 is an emergency U.S. directive to return to Mexico as soon as possible unauthorized migrants caught coming across the border, in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The lobbying efforts and the cold weather succeeded in dwindling the crowd overnight. Only a couple of dozen remained. At 4:30 a.m., CBP began allowing some U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents to walk back from Mexico and the crossing was fully reopened around 6 a.m. or 6:30 a.m., Valenzuela said.
Mexican officials said the occupation was neither violent nor orchestrated.
“Many are desperate because of their prolonged stay (in Mexico), because their court appointments have been suspended in the United States because of COVID. Others have placed high hopes on the (incoming Biden) administration. We know this because we talked to several of them last night,” Valenzuela said.
Some of the migrants have been in Juarez since early 2019 under the Migrant Protection Protocols program, which makes them wait out their asylum process in Mexico.
The Mexican official said he does not believe there will be more attempted mass crossovers for now.
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