JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) – U.S. and Mexican officials met here on Wednesday to pledge continued cooperation on migration.
This, even as the governor of Texas places buoys on the Rio Grande and a federal judge strikes down a Biden administration tool denying asylum to those who fail to seek protection in other countries before coming to the southern border.
“We don’t believe the deployment (of the buoys) has been legal, not humane, not effective, not environmentally sound,” said U.S. Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Richard R. Verma. “There are a lot of reasons for our court challenge … fundamentally it is not lawful. We’ll see how that plays out in our court system.”
The Justice Department on Monday sued Texas over the floating barrier deployed on the river to prevent people from illegally crossing into the U.S. from Mexico. Gov. Greg Abbott says he’s protecting Texans from illegal immigration given the federal government is not; the Biden administration says he’s usurping federal immigration functions and that Texas’ buoys are placing migrants in danger.
Officials in Mexico also oppose the floating barrier.
“Beyond politics, we cannot set aside respect for people’s lives and dignity,” Chihuahua Gov. Maru Campos said on Wednesday.
She said it would be good for Texas, the U.S. federal government and Mexican officials to hold a dialogue to “find a middle ground” on the issue of the buoys. However, she said she hasn’t talked to Abbott since Texas slowed commercial traffic to a crawl last year with “unnecessary” truck inspections to force Mexico to do more to keep migrants from the U.S. border.
El Paso leaders attending Wednesday’s meeting at Juarez’s Migrant Assistance Center said they were grateful to the federal government for deploying Federal Emergency Management Agency resources to their community to cope with migrant surges last year and earlier this year.
The millions in advanced FEMA funding have allowed the county to operate a resource center for migrants released from U.S. immigration custody to arrange travel out of the region. The city also has received millions of dollars in reimbursement for meal, hotels and charter bus expenses.
However, Samaniego said he’s concerned about a California judge having ruled last Tuesday that the Biden administration’s so-called “asylum travel ban” violates the migrants’ right to seek protection under U.S. laws.
Department of Homeland Security officials have credited the May 11 Circumvention of Lawful Pathways Rule, as well as mandatory online appointments for asylum seekers and strict enforcement of Title 8 rules for migrants who don’t qualify for asylum, with bringing down the record migration of the past two and a half years.
“Anything that changes (the rules) is really difficult on us because there is so much miscommunication. This decision by the judge impacts us tremendously. We are already hearing that more people are going to come to the border,” Samaniego said,
The county judge said the federal court’s action has put El Paso leaders on notice.
“These inconsistencies don’t give us time to breathe. We think we are doing so well and then the judge makes (a decision) that takes us back to square one. That’s very discouraging. They’re not understanding the impact it has on our community,” Samaniego said.
The county judge urged other El Paso leaders not to let down their guard and be ready to adjust should another migrant surge be on the way.
Ambassador pledges to take fight to human smugglers
At least 97 people have died in border canals, mountains and deserts since October 1 in El Paso and Southern New Mexico, most of them likely migrants.
The migrants are dying in areas where smugglers typically assist foreign nationals attempt to evade U.S. Border Patrol agents. Some agency officials have stated publicly the smugglers are sending the migrants across the desert in triple-digit heat, which is leading to fatalities.
On Wednesday, Ambassador Salazar said the U.S. and Mexican governments have dismantled several migrant smuggling networks and will continue to take the fight to those criminal organizations.
“We are working closely with (Mexico’s) Attorney General’s Office to target criminal organizations. And our message to them is very clear: If you are engaged in human smuggling, we are going to go after you,” Salazar said Wednesday in Juarez. “We have been doing that. We have a lot of cases we have brought up against criminal organizations. We are going to continue to do that.”
Salazar and Verma emphasized the Biden administration is trying to address the root causes of migration – which in the long term will keep more people home and deny smugglers potential clients.
Verma said the U.S. has increased assistance tenfold to migrant-originating countries and is setting up in-country processing centers in Central America and, possibly, southern Mexico.
But he said migration will remain an ongoing phenomenon.
“This migration issue affects not only the U.S. and Mexico. It is a global challenge. One-hundred million people are on the move worldwide, with 20 million people displaced in the Western Hemisphere,” the deputy secretary of state said.
Some of the root causes identified are poverty, crime, political repression, corruption and climate change.