US prepares for migrant surge as Mexico border restrictions set to end

Photo Courtesy of Bangkok Post

Tens of thousands of US law enforcement personnel have been deployed to the border with Mexico, according to officials, as waiting migrants voiced confusion and anger over an impending change to entry rules. The United States is preparing for a surge in people claiming refuge from political persecution, climate-related disasters, and poverty when pandemic-era restrictions expire overnight later this week.

In the Mexican border town of Ciudad Juarez, a Venezuelan construction worker named Michel expressed frustration after multiple failed attempts to use a new phone app designed to process asylum requests once the rules are no longer in effect. “We don’t know what’s happening,” he commented after a treacherous overland journey from South America with his wife and five-year-old daughter. “They’re making things more difficult.”

About 24,000 border police and 1,100 processing personnel have been activated – double the number from a year ago – and the Pentagon has sent an additional 1,500 troops to reinforce 2,500 already stationed there.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas stated that the US government was “clear-eyed” about the challenges of ending the Covid restrictions known as Title 42. “Even after nearly two years of preparation, we expect to see large numbers of encounters at our southern border in the days and weeks after the restrictions are lifted,” he informed reporters on Wednesday. “We are already seeing high numbers of encounters in certain sectors.”

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President Joe Biden has warned, “It’s going to be chaotic for a while.” The border crossings are a political flashpoint in the United States, with the rival Republican Party under Donald Trump championing strict anti-immigration measures.

Trump, when he was president, used Title 42, an official public health measure, to block migrants. However, both the United States and the World Health Organization have declared that the emergency phase of the pandemic is over.

A group of Republican senators on Wednesday accused Biden’s administration of responding too slowly and criticized the decision to abandon Trump’s signature proposal of a border wall.

Despite the record number of migrants expelled through coordination with other countries over the past two and a half years, the Biden administration insists on taking a more humane approach, including not separating children from their parents, a controversial measure under Trump.

The administration announced that it has finalized a rule stating that anyone who does not use legal pathways to enter the United States will be deemed ineligible and subject to removal. However, there remains an exception if an individual can prove a “reasonable fear” of torture if they return to their home country reports Bangkok Post.

Immigrant advocates argue that the rule is in breach of decades of US law and international agreements that allow vulnerable individuals to apply for asylum.

Many Venezuelans who have already crossed into the United States, and previously had an exception from the Title 42 rules, handed themselves into border patrol agents in El Paso. They worry that once the restrictions are lifted, they will be stuck in Mexico, unable to undo the difficult journey back to a hostile homeland and living without money or proper rights.

In Ciudad Juarez, stories of unimaginable human suffering are all too common. Marta Perez, who fled Guatemala after criminal gangs raped her and killed her husband in front of their children, now tries to find a way to the United States to be with her son. “All I want to do is cross to the US and be with my son,” she said, desperate for a chance at a better life.

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With a Bachelor's Degree in English, Jenn has plenty of experience writing and editing on different topics. After spending many years teaching English in Thailand, Jenn has come to love writing about Thai culture and the experience of being an ex-pat in Thailand. During long holidays, she travels to North of Thailand just to have Khao Soi!

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