JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) – Children play on the dirt floor as women sort through a pile of donated clothes in the backyard of a building in the working-class Anapra neighborhood.
Inside, more clothes are strewn about mattresses and bunk beds where a few toys and stuffed animals can be seen as well. A woman takes a wet mop to the floor of a hallway where a line of children holding their moms’ hands begins to form.
The common theme at the Esperanza de Vida migrant shelter just a few blocks from the border wall is there’s hardly any room to walk – and that’s with most guests out looking for temporary work or gone walking about the neighborhood in the daytime.
One month before the U.S. government is scheduled to terminate the Title 42 policy that’s been keeping foreign nationals from applying for asylum at ports of entry, most migrant shelters in Juarez are full or nearly full already.
“We’re waiting for Title 42 to end because there are too many people here. Sometimes my children don’t want to eat the food they give us because sometimes it’s already going bad,” said Jennifer Marisela Cortes, a citizen of Guatemala. “There is never enough because for every three (migrants) that leave, 10 more come in.”
The overcrowding makes it difficult to enforce COVID-19 protocols or think about privacy. The shelter that a year ago was housing a few dozen now struggles to feed 300 Haitians, Mexicans and Central Americans. Guests sleep 20 to 40 to a room, with families and single women looking out for each other.
Cortes left Guatemala fleeing poverty and gang violence. She came with a 5-year-old child, Jordy Ricardo, who needs medical attention after two open-heart surgeries. The child has been sick and at times vomiting blood; the May 23 Title 42 rollback date can’t come quick enough for him, his mother said.
She was overcome by desperation and crossed the Rio Grande into the U.S. illegally a few weeks ago, only to be swiftly expelled back to Mexico under the Title 42 public health order, she said.
Operators of various private and church-run migrant shelters in Juarez this week told Border Report their buildings were at 80 percent capacity or higher. They fear they will not be able to accommodate an expected rush of additional thousands of migrants seeking to make asylum claims after May 23.
Juarez Police Chief Cesar Omar Muñoz told reporters authorities will be stepping up enforcement against human-smuggling operations and stash houses. He also said state authorities are contemplating stopping migrants without Mexican humanitarian visas from coming into the state.
But on Friday, the Mexican government’s representative in the state of Chihuahua told Border Report he believes Juarez has enough resources to accommodate more migrants.
“Fortunately, in the past three years – almost four now – of this situation, we have pulled through,” said Juan Carlos Loera, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s man in the state. “I don’t think there is a grave risk of shelters becoming saturated. There’s a greater risk that people might be on the streets without a roof […} but the Leona Vicario (federal) shelter, for instance, is only 66 percent full right now. It’s been averaging an occupancy of 600 and it can be expanded to up to 1,800.”
Loera also said he doesn’t foresee a “rush” of migrants at the international bridges between Juarez and El Paso, Texas, on May 23 when advocates hope the U.S. will again be taking asylum applications at ports of entry. Three years ago, the U.S. government set limits to the number of people who could present themselves at ports of entry for asylum every day, and the Mexican government helped by managing a list of who could come across.
It’s unclear if the Biden administration will utilize such a mechanism again, which some advocates referred to as “metering” and characterized as illegal.
Loera said Mexico has no plans to stop “people in a situation of mobility.”
“We have great respect for them. The position of the (Mexican) federal government is always one of solidarity but we also are watchful that they are not exploited by others – namely, smugglers. We don’t want them to be victimized by criminals who want to treat them like merchandise,” the federal official said.
The state of Chihuahua earlier this month signed an agreement with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott promising to help curtail drug and migrant smuggling at their common border. The Mexican federal government, however, was not a party to that agreement and Lopez Obrador called Texas’ enhanced border truck inspections “political chicanery” on the part of Abbott.
While politicians in the U.S. warn about an inevitable new “wave” of illegal migration after May 23 spurred by Biden’s “open border” policies, and while Mexican officials expect nothing to change, migrants like Cruz Gonzalez wait for that day to come.
“I would have crossed already – there are plenty of coyotes here (Anapra) – but I don’t have money. I don’t have anything and we cannot cross the border because some of us have children,” Gonzalez said. “We are fighting for asylum, to enter the United States.”