JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) – Stevens Noel knew his journey to the U.S. border would be difficult. He just didn’t know it would involve sleeping on the streets of Juarez and relying on the charity of strangers for his next meal.
“I sleep on streets. I get up, walk, ask people if they will help me so I can eat. If they don’t want to, then I don’t eat,” the Haitian migrant told Border Report during a pre-dawn chat Tuesday morning.
Juarez officials estimate some 15,000 migrants are now in their city waiting for the U.S. to roll back Title 42 on May 23 so they can apply for asylum. Hundreds more are crossing the border daily, told by smugglers their chances of being exempted from Title 42 expulsions are strong, given the limited capacity of U.S. authorities to hold people in custody, sources in Mexico say.
U.S. authorities on Sunday dropped off more than 120 migrants at the Tornado Bus Station on West Paisano Drive after El Paso nonprofits told them their shelters had reached capacity.
In Juarez, even the largest migrant hospitality sites are beginning to turn people away. “If we have room, we’ll take them. But, right now, we know we are at capacity,” said Pastor Juan Fierro, director and founder of Good Samaritan migrant shelter. “I know a lot of people are sleeping in parks, under bridges, in abandoned houses and on the street.”
Border Report early Tuesday witnessed migrants resting or dozing off on park benches, the doorsteps of banks and businesses in Downtown and in front of stalls at the Market District.
Juarez Mayor Cruz Perez Cuellar said the city has welcomed thousands of migrants over the past three years but needs help to cope with the thousands more that have come in the past few weeks. He’s asking the President of Mexico and Chihuahua Gov. Maru Campos for money to provide shelter, food and services for them.
“The rollback of Title 42 could make it more attractive for the migrants to come to Juarez to solicit asylum in the U.S. Given this situation, the municipal government will solicit more resources to cope with that,” the mayor said in a news conference this week.
Thousands of Central American and Cuban families have been holding up in Juarez for more than a year with the hope of crossing into the United States. Lately, they have been joined by several hundred newly arrived Haitians like Noel and displaced Mexicans like Gloria Nunez.
“All we want is a chance to apply for asylum and do things legally. We know we can hire a coyote (smuggler) and do things that way, but we don’t want to,” the homemaker and mother from Michoacan said.
That Western state has been rocked by a fierce drug war between the Jalisco New Generation Cartel and various local groups like Familia Michoacana. The war has involved attacks with explosives-laden drones and road mines to cut off access to certain towns.
Noel, the Haitian, is a journeyman carpenter who left Haiti in the mid-2010s when offers for trade jobs were plentiful in South America. Brazil was about to host two major sporting events – a World Cup and the Olympics – and needed labor for public works. Neighboring countries like Chile and Uruguay also cashed in on the newly arrived cheap labor pool.
But then COVID-19 struck and jobs dried up. Tens of thousands of Haitians bolted for the U.S. border. Noel set off from Uruguay, arrived in Mexico last year and came to Juarez at the beginning of May, hoping to file an asylum claim in the United States or “at the very least get a job in Juarez.”
American analysts like former Tucson and El Paso Sector U.S. Border Patrol Chief Victor M. Manjarrez Jr. said it’s clear the U.S.-Mexico border is reaching a “saturation point” when it comes to migrant arrivals.
That means migrant shelters in Mexico are full and nonprofits on the American side who assist newcomers with asylum claims, temporary housing and transportation are exhausting their resources.
“The flow has been constant for more than a year; it hasn’t stopped,” he said. “People are coming across, getting arrested, getting processed … but the U.S. government doesn’t have the ability to detain everyone and they’re releasing them till their next hearing and relying on NGOs to help out. NGOs are outstanding during short-term crises. The problem is this has been going on for a long time and NGOs are exhausted.”
So is the Border Patrol, he said. Agents are being pulled off patrol duty to transport and process migrants they encounter near the border wall. That also makes a dent in the government’s capability to safeguard the border, he said.
“When you’re putting less people on the field, you have no idea what’s coming over and you’re leaving your agents vulnerable,” Manjarrez said, recalling a recent case in which a border agent was involved in a single-vehicle accident and no one came to assist him for several hours. “That’s disturbing enough, but I worry about places where the Mexican cartels are very active and very aggressive. Having less manpower on the field is a recipe for disaster.”
Juarez freelance photojournalist Roberto Delgado contributed to this story.