JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) — Jorge Luis Adan has witnessed two shootings during the three months he’s lived in Juarez. Both times the shots were meant for someone else, but he wonders how long before his luck will hold.
“Some people here have been good to me. I have a job, I make some money. But this is a dangerous place. I do not consider Mexico a safe third country,” said the native of Cuba, who is waiting in Juarez with his wife and young daughter for his next asylum hearing in the United States.
Other Cubans placed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection on a program commonly known as “Remain in Mexico” share his misgivings. That’s why last Friday they rushed to the Paso del Norte port of entry when a U.S. Circuit Court briefly blocked the program, officially known as Migrant Protection Protocols or MPP.
“We were so happy for those few hours. We thought we would soon be able to wait (for the outcome of the asylum case) in Miami, with our family,” said Yerenia Garcia Rodriguez, another Cuban on the MPP program waiting in Juarez. “We went to the bridge because we thought they would let us go over (into the United States). It was very frustrating when Immigration told us things were back to normal until Monday or Tuesday.”
Now, as the Trump administration presents arguments against halting the MPP program, the migrants waiting in Mexico have found renewed hope that they will be allowed to wait in the United States for a resolution to their asylum petitions.
Garcia said it would make a big difference to wait in Miami as opposed to Juarez, Mexico. Here, she has found work as a sales clerk at a Juarez Avenue Mexican arts and crafts shop. She makes $65 a week, which she says is barely enough to cover food and housing for herself and her husband.
“It’s not enough. […] and the violence, we see it on TV all the time. We’ve been safe only because we never go out at night and we go straight from our (apartment) to work,” Garcia said.
She’s confident her asylum request will prosper because she and her husband left Cuba after a confrontation with the government over free speech.
“It was my birthday and we were celebrating at a hotel. We started (venting) about all the obstacles the government places in front of people who want to get ahead. A security guards turned us in and the police came and beat up my husband,” Garcia said.
The man spent a week in jail and when he came out his face was still swollen from the beating. “We cannot go back to that,” she said.
Juarez saw its share of Central Americans during the migrant surge last year, but Mexican officials said most migrants who came here were Cubans. Many Central Americans have left the city — either gone home or sought alternative means to enter the United States — but the Cubans have remained.
Tomas Gomez, who runs the Caribbean Queen restaurant near Avenida Juarez, which is a place where many Cubans work or gather, said there is a lot enthusiasm but also skepticism among them after Friday’s near-end to the MPP program. “They’re asking themselves what’s going to happen next. Whether it’ll happen or things will remain the same,” he said.
Yadir Fernandez, 24, has been in Juarez for eight months, as he puts it, “laying low.”
He dropped out of the waiting list for asylum interviews in El Paso kept by Juarez authorities after hearing from family members and friends that it has become a means to keep people out of the United States.
“They go to their hearings and don’t even get to speak. They tell them to come to another hearing in six months,” he said. “To me, it’s just a wait to get people to give up on their processes.”
He didn’t rush to the bridge on Friday because he was working — as a waiter in a Juarez Avenue bar — but on Monday he went to the Migrant Assistance Center on the Mexican side of the Paso del Norte facility to ask where the MPP program stands now.
“If they do away with MPP I will file my petition. I would rather wait in detention on American soil than stay here,” he said.
Immigrant advocates in El Paso and Juarez are telling the migrants to be fully informed before doing something rash. They are urging those migrants already on MPP to keep their appointments.
“With or without MPP, you still have to go through the process. If you don’t have documents that allow you to stay legally in the United States, you still have to claim a credible fear of persecution in your country,” said El Paso immigration attorney Xavier A. Mendez.
It’s a long process that without MPP involves detention in the United States, the assignment of case officers, initial court hearings and court hearings to determine if the migrant will be released on bond to his family or a sponsor or paroled to be out in the community.
He said the situation on the border has the potential for chaos. “If they declare MPP invalid and take it off the table, technically all of these people will have a right to get to the bridge and present their asylum claim,” he said.
(Freelance Juarez journalist Roberto Delgado contributed to this report.)
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