Texas and Mexico share 1,254 miles of border, their economies are intertwined, and the culture is a unique blend of traditions. But just as they share the attributes that make the borderland a thriving place, they also share problems that test the strength of that bond, as the new wave of migrants arriving at the southern border in recent months has proven.
The border between El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico exemplifies the impact this new wave of migration has had on both sides. Thousands of refugees have arrived seeking asylum since January, many of them have made the treacherous journey from Central America, through Mexico, to the Texas border, under the belief that the Biden administration is more welcoming than the Trump administration.
“But right now, that system is completely closed, effectively closed for the majority of people are coming to the border right now,” says Dylan Corbett, director of the Hope Border Institute in El Paso, an organization that provides humanitarian assistance to migrants expelled from Texas to Juarez.
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The reason for that closure is Title 42, a health directive implemented in March of 2020 that allows the director of the CDC to prohibit individuals who may pose a danger of spreading a communicable disease from entering the United States. On May 19, 2020, the order was extended indefinitely.
According to the American Immigration Council, under Title 42, thousands of migrants have been expelled. 70,000 in February alone.
Until recently, El Paso was the city from which most of the migrants detained along the Texas border were expelled into Juarez.
Upon their expulsion, they are taken by Mexican authorities to the National Migration Institute where they receive food, water and diapers for their children, after that, a new reality sets in, a new and uncertain future in Mexico.
Johana, Griselda, Isabel and their children are navigating the hurdles of those recently expelled. They were returned from El Paso to Juarez a few weeks ago and have been living in a gym turned shelter, along with 200 other migrants. It is one of 18 shelters the local government has had to open to keep migrants from living on the streets. Their reasons for leaving their home countries tell the story of poverty, insecurity and lack of work.
Johana, a single mother of two, said she left her native Honduras because her husband was murdered, and she started receiving death threats against herself and her daughters.
Griselda a 23-year-old woman traveling with her 5-year-old daughter left Guatemala where she was extorted by gangs that demanded part of her paycheck for allowing her to work at a grocery store. She refused. They threatened to kidnap her young daughter.
Isabel, a nurse in Honduras said she left her country because she couldn’t find work. She said she was passed over for younger people. Now in Juarez, their future is in limbo.
“Our response, which has been to expel these people to communities in northern Mexico exposes them deliberately to conditions of insecurity, to vulnerability, where they can be preyed upon by smugglers and cartels and criminals,” said Corbett.
That was the case for Griselda. In Mexico, she encountered the very same thing she was running away from. She said she was kidnapped by cartel gangs posing as police and was given three days to pay $6,000 or they threatened to kill her. Her family back in Guatemala had to scramble to get the money to free her.
For now, these three women and their children are safe but soon they will have to move to a long-term shelter where they will wait for someone in the U.S government to follow up or for a non-profit to take up their case. The wait is indefinite, a gamble they are willing to take because waiting is better than the alternative.