Court ruling extends unequal treatment to asylum seekers

EAGLE PASS, Texas (AP) — As the sun set over the Rio Grande River, some 120 Cubans, Colombians and Venezuelans wading through waist-deep water boarded Border Patrol vehicles soon to be released into the United States to continue your immigration cases. .

Across the border, in the Mexican city of Piedras Negras, Honduran families gathered in a downtown section with broken sidewalks, narrow streets and few people, not knowing where to spend the night because the city’s only shelter was full.

The opposing fortunes illustrate the dual nature of US border policing under the pandemic rules, known as Title 42 and named for a 1944 public health law. President Joe Biden wanted to end those rules on Monday, but a federal judge in Louisiana issued a nationwide injunction keeping them intact.

The US government has removed migrants more than 1.9 million times under Title 42, denying them the opportunity to apply for asylum as permitted by US law and international treaty in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

But Title 42 is not applied uniformly across all nationalities. For example, Mexico agrees to receive back migrants from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Mexico. However, for other nationalities, high costs, poor diplomatic relations, and other considerations make it difficult for the US to bring migrants back to their countries of origin under Title 42. Instead, they are usually released in the US. to seek asylum or other forms of legal status. .

Hondurans in Piedras Negras ask Cubans who arrive at the bus station for money, knowing that the Cubans will not be served the pesos because they will cross the border directly. While Mexico agreed in April to take some Cubans and Nicaraguans expelled under Title 42, the vast majority are released in the US.

“It was an outing,” Javier Fuentes, 20, said of his overnight stay at a rented house in Piedras Negras. On Sunday morning, he and two other Cuban men crossed the Rio Grande River and walked on a paved road for about an hour until they found a Border Patrol vehicle in Eagle Pass, a Texas town of 25,000 where migrants cross the river to the edge of a public golf course.

The overnight rains raised the water to about neck level for most adults, a possible explanation for the absence of groups numbering in the dozens, even more than 100, that frequent the area on many days.

“Slow start to the morning,” a Border Patrol agent said as he greeted Guard troops watching four Peruvians, including a 7-month-old boy who crossed with his parents after several days crammed into a rented room in Piedras Negras with 17 migrants.

When the water dropped to waist level again, about three dozen migrants gathered at a public riverfront park that also drew local residents in Piedras Negras, considered the birthplace of nachos. Babies and young children joined a crowd of mostly Hondurans to cross. A Honduran woman was eight months pregnant in obvious pain.

Eagle Pass, a sprawling city of warehouses and dilapidated homes overlooked by many major retailers, is one of the busiest spots in the Border Patrol’s Del Rio sector, which includes roughly 250 miles (400 km) of sparsely populated riverside. Last year, some 15,000 immigrants, mostly Haitians, gathered in nearby Del Rio, which is not much bigger than Eagle Pass. Grain fields are all that separates either of the two towns from San Antonio, about a three-hour drive away.

The relative ease of crossing — migrants cross the river in a matter of minutes, often without paying a smuggler — and the perception that it is relatively safe on the Mexican side has made the remote region a major migration route.

Texas’ Rio Grande Valley has long been the busiest of the nine Border Patrol sectors on the border with Mexico, but Del Rio has moved closer to second place this year. Yuma, Arizona, another place known for its relative safety and ease of crossing, jumped to the third most traveled spot.

Del Rio and Yuma rank sixth and seventh in number of agents among the nine sectors, a reflection of how Border Patrol staffing has long lagged behind the shifts of migration flows.

Other parts of the border are less heavily patrolled than Del Rio, a plus for migrants trying to evade capture, but are more rugged and remote, said Jon Anfinsen, president of the Del Rio sector chapter of the National Border Patrol Council.

Anfinsen calls the Del Rio sector “a kind of middle ground” for migrants seeking to balance the lure of remote areas with safety.

Cristian Salgado, who sleeps on the streets of Piedras Negras with his wife and 5-year-old son after fleeing Honduras, said the Mexican border town is “one of the few places where you can live more or less in peace.”

But his enthusiasm for the Biden administration’s plans to lift Title 42 on Monday evaporated with the judge’s ruling. “Now there is no hope,” he said.

Your pessimism may be a bit off. Hondurans were stopped nearly 16,000 times at the border in April, with a few more resulting in removal under Title 42. The rest could seek asylum in the US if they expressed fear of returning home.

But the Cubans fared much better. They were stopped more than 35,000 times in April, and only 451, or just 1%, were prosecuted under Title 42.

“The Cubans come in automatically,” said Joel González, a 34-year-old Honduran who tried to elude agents for three days in Eagle Pass before being caught and expelled. The agents told him that asylum in the United States was no longer available.

Isis Peña, 45, turned down an offer from a fellow Honduran to cross the river. The woman she called from San Antonio, saying that she was released without even asking if she wanted to apply for asylum. The woman now lives in New York.

Peña tried to cross himself the next day, an experience he does not want to repeat for fear of drowning. After about four hours in custody, an agent told him: “There is no asylum for Honduras.”

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