Aug 11 (Reuters) – Melissa Pinedo, a 27-year-old single mother from Guatemala, has been living for weeks in a tent in Reynosa, Mexico, across the border from Texas, trying to find someone in call about a quick-closing window for claiming asylum in the United States.
“There are numbers of lawyers circulating, but no one answers. They are overwhelmed,” she said in a telephone interview.
She is among thousands of migrants from northern Mexico who have few options as the US government and nonprofit groups end a program that has allowed a small number of asylum seekers to be exempted a radical policy of expulsion at the border.
Pinedo said she and her brother witnessed the group murder of a shopkeeper who failed to pay the extortion fee two years ago. Members of the gang tracked down her brother and killed him a month later, she said. She fled to another neighborhood.
But she decided to flee north with her 8-year-old daughter earlier this year after gang members found her and attempted to kidnap them, she said.
She crossed Mexico by bus and hoped to seek asylum in the United States, paying smugglers $ 1,000 this summer to cross the Rio Grande River. But border officials quickly deported them before Pinedo had a chance to tell them his story.
Desperate, she decided two weeks ago to send her daughter across the border alone. Her daughter is now in federal juvenile custody pending delivery to Pinedo’s parent who resides in Los Angeles.
Now, with humanitarian exemptions from the deportation policy dwindling, Pinedo is running out of options to seek safety and find his daughter.
The controversial public health policy, known as Title 42, allows border officials to quickly deport most migrants caught crossing the US-Mexico border.
US President Joe Biden, a Democrat, upheld the March 2020 public health order and recently extended it. read more In addition to pushing migrants back to northern Mexico as part of this policy, the administration last week began sending migrants to Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala.
Biden, who took office promising a more humane approach to immigration than his Republican predecessor Donald Trump, put in place a system earlier this year to allow some migrants deemed most vulnerable to seek protection from the states- United. It also exempted unaccompanied minors from the policy.
A consortium of nonprofits that have helped the administration identify migrants at risk for these exemptions is shutting down its program at the end of the month, the groups involved said. The groups have said they want Title 42 to end and have always viewed the exemptions as temporary.
At the same time, a similar separate process organized by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) ended on Monday, said ACLU lawyer Lee Gelernt, after the organization revived legal action against the government to abandon the Title 42 family policy. read more The lawsuit argues that cutting off asylum at the border is illegal and that migrants risk being kidnapped and assaulted when stranded in dangerous border towns in Mexico.
“The Biden administration’s decision to abruptly end humanitarian exemptions and illegally keep the border closed to asylum seekers is playing into the hands of the cartels who claim they are the only reliable way for people to enter states- United, ”said Noah Gottschalk of Oxfam America, one of the groups involved in the dispute.
David Shahoulian, a senior official with the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), said in a court statement that the government “is committed to continuing to use mechanisms” to authorize exemptions, without elaborating.
DHS, when asked about ending exemptions, said “the agency’s collaboration with organizations that submit cases is fluid,” without giving further details on future plans. U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not respond to a request for comment on individual cases. The Refugee Resettlement Office, which deals with unaccompanied minors, said it did not have official figures, but staff noted that hundreds of children in their care said they had still family in Mexico.
‘SO DANGEROUS HERE’
According to the Shahoulian court statement, some 16,000 migrants have so far benefited from humanitarian exemptions under Biden, who took office on January 20. This is a small fraction of the more than half a million migrants encountered at the border, including families with young children. , who have been deported under Title 42 since February. These numbers include people who may have tried crossing several times.
In Reynosa, there are now around 2,000 people – mostly Central American families – living in a small plaza filled with a tangle of camping tents, clothing, and informal community kitchens near the international bridge leading to McAllen, Texas. Read more
Ingrid Aguilar, 39, also from Guatemala, has been in the square for two months after she and her 17-year-old son were arrested by US border officials and deported. She said she fled her homeland after gangs threatened her son.
She now helps distribute food and other donations to people in the square, who also have little access to basic amenities. Townspeople instruct migrants to wash and use the toilet, she said, depleting people’s minimal resources.
After being deported to Mexico, Aguilar was so worried that her son would be forced to return to Guatemala that she sent him across the border alone. She stayed, hoping for a humanitarian exemption.
Now she’s stuck on hold with few responses.
“They just tell you to sign up and wait for a call,” she said in a phone interview. “It’s so dangerous here. You escape your country, then you end up here and it’s the same.”
Reporting by Mica Rosenberg in New York; Additional reporting by Laura Gottesdiener in Monterrey, Mexico and Kristina Cooke in San Francisco, editing by Ross Colvin and Aurora Ellis
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