‘The crisis is in Washington’: Overwhelmed border officials urge D.C. to act

“No question about it, Donald Trump’s strategy was inhuman, brutal and un-American,” said Vicente Gonzalez MP (D-Texas), who represents a border district. “But what we’re doing now is also a failure.”

Officials and community leaders along the border also say that one important detail is missing from the debate: these are People politicians argue about.

One early Friday morning, Guatemalan asylum seeker Marlen Reyes was sitting with her 8-year-old daughter Meylin and her 5-year-old son Freddy next to a small flowered backpack and two plastic bags at the bus station in the city center filled with water, juice and snacks. Just two blocks away is a bridge between the United States and Mexico, where Americans can pay a dollar in coins to get to Mexico on foot. The area is shaped by its borderline status with duty-free shops, a flea market and outlets selling everything from sunglasses to party items on the streets in front of the bridge.

But Reyes didn’t think about her proximity to Mexico. The 33-year-old mother of two pondered how close she and her children would be to Miami, where she planned to stay with her mother, who has lived in the United States for 15 years, pending final hearing on her case. This can take months – even years.

Ask her why she made the 16-day hike from her home country to the US and Reyes won’t hesitate with her answer: the violence. The threats made by local gang members to kidnap and kill their children.

Like Reyes, thousands of parents, most of whom are from Central America and Mexico, head north with their young children in the hope that they will be welcomed by the Biden government – and pray that they will not be like them most migrants are kicked out. So far, however, their reception at the border has often been contradicting and confusing. This is partly because the US government’s capacity to cope with the influx of migrants is limited, and partly because Mexico is not always ready or able to take them in.

This means that some families are allowed to stay while others are forced to leave.

Here and in other Texan border towns, local officials and nonprofits are not interested in discussing whether or not they are facing a “crisis” at the border. It’s not a crisis for them. Yet. They focus on the daily challenges: The migrants released in the US are fed, clothed, tested for coronavirus – and brought to their final destination as quickly as possible.

Yet their efforts are overshadowed by the rhetoric coming from Washington and Austin, where Republican leaders and lawmakers refer to what was happening on the border as a “crisis” and a “superspreader event” and blame President Joe Biden for what mistreated them Viewing politics and messaging.

Senate Minority Chairman Mitch McConnell summed up the Republicans’ position last week: “The government cannot admit that it created a crisis. They have not yet overcome the crisis. And House Democrats support policies that give the wrong incentive would only aggravate. “

Meanwhile, some Democrats say the new government is working hard and giving it room to breathe to face challenges – such as where to shelter and how to treat the thousands of unaccompanied children and teenagers who arrive at the border each day can process quickly. Others, including a mix of progressives and moderates, insist that Biden is moving too slowly and doesn’t understand the gravity of the situation – even though they don’t agree on a solution.

The border is officially closed to families. On Wednesday, Homeland Security Minister Alejandro Mayorkas, himself an immigrant, told lawmakers that “families arrested at the border will also be immediately expelled under the same health authority unless we are faced with temporary restrictions on Mexico’s reception capacity.”

However, in February more than 11,000 “family units” – nearly 60 percent of the more than 19,000 detained at the border – were allowed to stay in the United States while awaiting trial. according to CBP statistics. That is an increase of only 38 percent who were allowed to stay temporarily in January.

Biden’s critics say his messages is clearly to blame for the thousands of migrants who are coming now: but more than half a dozen asylum seekers interviewed by POLITICO said they would make the migration regardless of who was in the White House. Some of their reasons: lack of job opportunities, concerns for their family’s safety, and devastation from last year’s successive hurricanes that walled parts of Central America.

The decision for Reyes came after receiving threats that Meylin and Freddy would be kidnapped and killed if she did not pay a fee to protect them. She said she knew the threats were real because her husband’s boyfriend was recently kidnapped, tortured and killed despite his family paying the ransom. (Reyes did not discuss her husband’s whereabouts.)

“I can do anything for my children,” Reyes said as she combed Meylin’s long, straight black hair into a ponytail.

Later, while Meylin was playing with a Rubik’s cube-like puzzle and Freddy was jumping around with his Spiderman action figure, Reyes tearfully recounted how she tried to file a formal complaint with the police in her hometown of Escuintla. But the officers told her there was nothing they could do.

“Given what happened, I would have found a way no matter what,” Reyes said as she sat among about 20 parents with young children who, like her, were dropped off at the bus station by CBP that morning.

Reyes had a copy in her gray shoulder bag She tried to file the complaint with the police. She also kept a copy on her cell phone just in case. And she kept records of calls threatening her children’s lives in hopes that a US judge would grant them asylum.

The odds are not in their favor. According to the research center, more than 70 percent of asylum applications were rejected in the 2020 financial year Access to clearing house for transaction records at Syracuse University. Less than 15 percent of asylum seekers from Guatemala in particular succeeded.

Reyes knows her chances are slim. But, she said, she holds on to the hope: “God does not forsake us.”

A call to stop doing it politically

According to CBP statistics, more than 100,000 migrants were arrested or turned over to border guards in February, a 28 percent increase from January. Of these, the majority were withdrawn from circulation almost immediately under a health agency that former President Donald Trump called in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic. And some of these migrants are, according to the CBP, repeat cruisers who have tried several times to enter the country illegally.

These numbers are likely to be even higher in March and in the coming months. And Biden officials acknowledge that. Mayorkas warned last week that the US “is well on its way to meeting more people on the southwestern border than in the past 20 years”.

It is also clear that the number of migrants – including unaccompanied minors – has increased significantly with the beginning of the Biden administration. As of Thursday, 4,500 unaccompanied minors are being held at Border Patrol facilities – and more than 9,500 are in shelters operated by the Department of Health and Human Services while waiting to be matched with a verified sponsor, an administrative official told a briefing press .

Democrats and immigrant advocates say this surge in arrivals is the result of four years of Trump’s attempts to seal the border and dismantle the US asylum system. The Republicans blame Biden who they believe is effective in encouraging migrants to come by reversing Trump-era politics.

The reality is: this is not the first wave of migrants arriving at the border. It happened in 2019 under Trump. It also happened in 2014 under former President Barack Obama.

Because of this, local officials and community leaders say they can deal with the influx for the time being. You have been preparing for months. However, they say their willingness to help migrants should not distract from the urgency to act quickly. Centers run by the federal government dedicated to processing migrants are overwhelmed. On average, children are detained by Border Patrol well over the legal limit of 72 hours. And there is not enough space for unaccompanied minors.

“The crisis is in Washington because it’s the third administration that can’t solve it,” said Jim Darling, mayor of McAllen, Texas, a small town 60 miles west of Brownsville. “The only thing that could stop families is the legislation and the real work to help Central America – and that’s not happening.”

Many of the families who flock here stop in McAllen, which, like Brownsville, is in the Rio Grande Valley – the region on the southeast side of the border, dotted with cities used to migrant arrivals. In McAllen, a town of about 140,000 people, A local NGO, the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, tests migrants for Covid-19, protects them and helps coordinate their travel logistics.

Sister Norma Pimentel, the group’s executive director, said the story that “this is a crisis and is being caused by this government” is false. “It’s because nobody has ever done anything to address the problem and that’s why we still have the situation,” she said.

Not everyone in McAllen agrees with Darling and Pimentel. McAllen is a heavily Latin American city, but that certainly doesn’t mean they’re all liberals or support Biden’s vision for immigration. Hidalgo County, where McAllen is located, was one of the predominantly Latin American counties in South Texas where Trump saw his biggest improvement in the 2020 election. Even so, Biden won the county by 17 percent.

In the early afternoon on a sweaty, sunny Saturday, around a dozen protesters – most of them latino, Some donned Trump 2020 gear – standing in front of white tents to test migrants for the coronavirus. They waved the American and Texas flags and talked about how Biden was responsible for the “flood of illegals bringing in Covid”.

“We have to take care of the people of America first,” said Celia Segovia, one of the protesters, who wore a red T-shirt that read “Type A: American”.

“It’s not fair to those who come. And it’s not fair to us.”

“Decisions are made on site”

One early Saturday morning, several CBP trucks and SUVs were parked on a freeway in La Joya, Texas, a small town of about 4,000 residents just 20 miles west of McAllen. Minutes later there were local police officers and also a Texas state officer.

The scene: Nine migrants – eight men and one woman – were caught walking through the brush not far from the Rio Grande. First, CBP agents arrested seven of the migrants, who came with just the clothes they were wearing and a few gallons of water. Another agent appeared a few minutes later and handcuffed the other two migrants together.

The migrants sat with their heads bowed and looked defeated. CBP officers gave them blue face masks, then ordered them to take off their laces, belts and hats – and gave them plastic bags to put in their pockets. Then they patted her. Shortly afterwards, they split up the group and put them in different trucks before they drove away.

Soon the migrants will likely be back in Mexico. Current US policy is to exclude all but unaccompanied minors. In some cases, families with young children are allowed to stay.

For weeks, many migrant families – usually parents with one young child – who cross the border into the Rio Grande Valley have been processed quickly by CBP and then released in McAllen or Brownsville.

“In order to process individuals as safely and quickly as possible,” said a CBP spokesman, the agency has started sending some of the families on a three-hour bus ride to Laredo. Or they put them on a plane to El Paso, a town on the westernmost point of Texas, the spokesman said.

When a family arrives at the border today, where and when it is processed by CBP is different. Some – including a criminal background check and a health exam – are processed in makeshift centers near ports of entry or in areas with heavy migrant traffic. Others are taken to formal machining centers. Or they are transported to another city for processing. According to official figures, the current goal is for CBP to either identify them or release them in the US to quickly make room for other arriving migrants.

The CBP spokesman told POLITICO that the fate of families would be “assessed on a case-by-case basis.” The speaker, who did not want to be identified, did not want to elaborate on the criteria used to determine who was allowed to stay – and who had to leave.

In El Paso, community leaders were alarmed to discover that migrant families sent to their city from the Rio Grande Valley are often kicked out hundreds of kilometers from where they were first arrested reported from the Dallas Morning News.

Ruben Garcia was one of those community leaders who sounded the alarm. He runs the Annunciation House in El Paso, one of the largest protection networks in the country for migrants and refugees. One of its “hospitality centers” – a converted warehouse with cots, a Covid test room and colorful murals – can currently accommodate more than 180 migrants with social distancing. And he is setting up another area of ​​the center with cots where he can welcome more than 400 migrants.

Families dropped off at the center by CBP typically spend 24 to 96 hours there while arrangements are made for their travel to other parts of the country. But, Garcia said earlier this month, just days after CBP announced it was sending flights to El Paso from migrant families – many of which would enter his accommodations – he found that “a very real percentage of them” are being sent back Ciudad Juárez, the twin city of El Paso in Mexico.

“Once you give these people access, don’t fly them to another city and evict them there,” said Garcia. “I have a real problem with that.”

Over in McAllen, Pimentel said the problem, as she understands it, is this: CBP officials stationed along the Rio Grande Valley are overwhelmed by the influx of migrants seeking refuge. Instead of processing them where there is no capacity, CBP sends them to El Paso and Laredo.

However, what happens after processing is different. All migrant families should be expelled according to current US policy. According to local authorities, Mexico is now refusing to accept families with children under the age of 6 in certain parts of the border, which means that they will be released to the US anyway. However, Reuters reported on Friday that even families with young children will be expelled after flying to El Paso.

On Thursday, a government official told reporters that “decisions on the ground will be made at a time based on a variety of circumstances.”

“We continue to evict families, but there are certain limitations on Mexico’s capacity at certain times and in certain areas. There have been cases where they have not been able to take in families with young children, ”said the administrative officer.

However, this information does not reach most of the migrants making the journey. Several of the parents POLITICO spoke to said in their communities that unaccompanied minors and families with young children are allowed to stay in the United States.

That is why Delmy Suyapa Galdamez left Honduras in February with her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Evelyn on the way to the border. After a month of walking by bus and foot, Suyapa was stuck at the Brownsville bus station with a toddler in tow, waiting for details on how she would get to her final destination: her sister-in-law’s house in Louisiana.

“I would have always done this because I wanted the opportunity to help my family,” she said.

But recent events forced them to act. Life at home had become untenable. She lost everything in last year’s hurricanes. And last month her nephew was murdered.

Suyapa said her goal was to find a job. She hopes that she can settle in the United States so that she can help her daughter get ahead and one day buy a small house. With all of her immediate family in Honduras, she said she really wanted to send money back there to help them.

“With God’s help we can move forward. And although it is very difficult, “she said,” there is nothing else I can do. “

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