EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — About half the people who signed up to initiate asylum claims at an El Paso port of entry are no longer showing up when called, Mexican officials say.

Those officials interpret this as a sign many Central Americans and others are returning home or exploring alternatives to escape the violence, poverty or persecution that drove them out of their countries.

“We know this is going on because when they are called to meet with CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) to request asylum, we call, for example, 10 people and we are able to go down 30 to 40 numbers on the list because many don’t show up,” said Enrique Valenzuela, director of the Chihuahua state Population Council, which manages a waiting list of asylum seekers in Juarez on behalf of U.S. authorities.

Two Honduran women at the Migrant Assistance Center in Juarez, Mexico look toward the U.S. border. (photo by Julian Resendiz)

As of Wednesday, 6,200 migrants remained on that list, but Valenzuela estimates that only 3,000 to 3,100 are still in Juarez.

“We believe many of those people have returned to their home country. … Even more people say they want to leave, that they don’t want to go on with their asylum request,” he said.

In addition to the list to initiate asylum claims, more than 14,000 others started the process and have been returned to wait out their cases in Mexico under the United States’ Migrant Protection Protocol Program (MPP). Valenzuela said 30 percent to 40 percent of those also have gone back home or maybe are trying to enter the U.S. through alternative means.

“Maybe we have between 8,000 to 9,000 people still here (in Juarez),” the Mexican official said. Church-run shelters that once were bursting at the seams with Cubans, Central Americans and even African migrants are no longer at capacity. “We have 600 migrants, mostly from the MPP program, at the new Leona Vicario federal shelter, and the rest of the shelters combined have 1,546 people,” he added.

Valenzuela said Mexico’s National Migration Institute and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are providing bus rides to migrants to their countries. The rides are voluntary, but many migrants are taking advantage of them, he said.

‘We’re playing games with people’s lives’

Some El Paso advocates expressed frustration with the Trump administration’s hardline policy toward asylum seekers who have been showing up at the Southwestern border since last October.

“This Administration has made so many changes to our asylum process — which group to protect or not –, that unfortunately have ramifications to people’s lives. They have a legitimate asylum claim, but because of our changing policies, we’re playing games with people’s lives and there is only so much a human being can endure,” said Marisa Limon, deputy director of El Paso’s Hope Border Institute, which provides assistance to migrants.

She said Central American, Cuban and other migrants who are on the waiting list or have been placed on the MPP program are in a “state of limbo” which causes them frustration and uncertainty.

“There is a desire to play by the rules, yet the rules keep changing. It only makes sense people have to make a different choice based on those changes,” she said.

Limon added that the U.S. asylum process has become a “false promise” of the country’s mantra of welcoming the asylum seeker.

“We have basically put an end to that with this government, especially with people coming through the Southern border. No wonder people would go back to horrific conditions, which may have been made worse by incurring debt to come here and enduring trauma on the journey to the U.S.,” she said.

Mexico becomes alternative destination

While some migrants have given up on the American dream, some have discovered life in Juarez — despite this city’s international reputation for drug-related violence — as a viable alternative. Valenzuela said Cubans, Central Americans and others are applying for “humanitarian refuge” in Mexico and others are marrying Mexicans.

“I know of at least a couple of cases of people from Cuba that have married people from Juarez and I understand more of these events are taking place,” he said. “Many have already asked for refuge here in Mexico; they understand this is a good alternative to what they were looking for.”

Juarez has a healthy maquiladora industry which last month reported more than 5,000 vacancies. The number of migrants applying for work permits or trying to send their children to school in Juarez is on the rise, with state officials reporting the issuance of 36 work permits in June and 37 in July.