JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) – Men and women with manila folders sit on the sidewalk outside the immigration offices on the Mexican side of the Stanton Street International Bridge. Others, some with children, wait on benches across the street. A few get up when a government employee comes up to see what they want. The rest stay in place in a line that is politely self-policed.

By early afternoon, most of the migrants that came to apply for temporary Mexican work permits disperse empty-handed.

“We want to work, but when one applies for a job, they ask you for a permit. (But) they only give 15 to 20 permits per day,” said Juan Pablo, a Venezuelan migrant who came to Juarez several weeks ago. “You come with a letter from someone who wants to hire you and they tell you it’s no good, that it has to be an established business.”

Many Venezuelans who set off from South America months ago to seek U.S. asylum found the doors shut by the time they got to the border. The Biden administration on Oct. 12 established a rigorous remote application process and threatened to expel Venezuelans who enter the U.S. between ports of entry. On Jan. 5, the administration expanded the program to include Haitians, Cubans and Nicaraguans.

Juan Pablo and many other Venezuelans who lack a U.S. sponsor or have already been expelled remain in Juarez in the hope the administration will let them in, anyway. In the meantime, they are struggling to make ends meet in this Mexican border city with one of the highest homicide rates in the world.

Derwin, a Venezuelan migrant (BR photo)

“It is unfair because many people want to work but they don’t give them permits,” said Derwin, another Venezuelan migrant. “That is why you see so many migrants cleaning windshields, asking for money or (doing) other things, being on the streets, begging.”

The panhandling and some fights for control of car windshield-washing activities in some intersections has led authorities in Juarez to ask the migrants to stay off the streets. That adds to the urgency of securing a work permit.

Border Report attempted to speak to Mexican immigration officials in Juarez but was told they were not available. A local official familiar with the migrants’ situation also was unavailable on Friday.

Getting a work permit in Mexico if you are a foreigner is no different than getting such a document in the United States. In addition to an official government ID from his home country, the migrant must document a legal stay in Mexico, whether through a formal immigration process or a humanitarian visa. Foreigners also need a tax ID document known as CURP. And they need a formal job offer from an employer who has a taxpayer ID number and is registered with the Mexican Social Security Institute, according to the Mexican federal government website.

Migrants wait across the street from the Mexican National Migration Institute office in Juarez to request work permits. (Border Report photo)

Many migrants in Juarez have told Border Report they never applied for admission to Mexico and avoided immigration checkpoints on the way to Juarez. Since 2019, many have found work in the informal economy: loading and unloading trucks at the Downtown Market District, working cash jobs at family-owned businesses, or selling trinkets on the street.

It’s not just Venezuelans who are complaining about the red tape to procure work permits.

“My son and I come from a very poor country, a failed county that is Honduras, and they don’t give us work,” said Victor Manuel Munoz, a citizen of that Central American nation. “We have looked for work and have not been given an opportunity. The Venezuelans have been offered work but they don’t want to work; they go for the easy stuff.”

Munoz said he squeaks out a living by selling candy on the streets. He still has not figured out how he will cross into the United States, which is the reason he came to the border.

“We don’t want to beg shamelessly. The Mexican government should help people. We’re paying 50 pesos ($2.65) for a place to sleep, 30 pesos ($1.65) for a shower and 5 pesos (25 U.S. cents) to use the toilet,” Munoz said.

Most Title 42 expulsions in the region involve Mexicans, Guatemalans, Salvadorans and Hondurans.