Migrants At U.S.-Mexico Border Face Misinformation, Confusion, Repeated Refusal : NPR

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A group of migrants who were quickly deported from the USA under Title 42 wait on March 10th on the Mexican side of the international Paso del Norte bridge between El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez (Mexico). PAUL RATJE / AFP via Getty Images are hiding subtitles

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PAUL RATJE / AFP via Getty Images

A group of migrants who were quickly deported from the USA under Title 42 is waiting on March 10th on the Mexican side of the Paso del Norte International Bridge between El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez (Mexico).

PAUL RATJE / AFP via Getty Images

JUAREZ, MEXICO – The Biden government is grappling with a major logistical and humanitarian challenge on the southwest border, with an average of around 5,000 unauthorized migrants crossing each day.

About half of the migrants are allowed to stay in the US and apply for asylum, the rest will be sent back to Mexico, according to a senior border guard who spoke to reporters on Friday on condition of anonymity.

But now there is a new fold: some areas on the border in Mexico are refusing to take the migrants back, so the US authorities are flying them where Mexican officials will accept them.

This created confusion among families dropped on the busy international Paso del Norte bridge between El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, including about 40 migrants who crossed the Mexican border one day last week by US immigration officials Side.

“I’m with my wife and two daughters,” says Jerry Oyedo, 25, a father from Honduras whose girls are 6 and 8 years old for three days, and then they threw us here. ”

“We don’t know anyone; we have no family. Only God is with us,” he adds.

Several people in this dazed, disheveled group of mostly parents with children from Central America asked this reporter where they had been taken. Those with cell phones made desperate calls, trying to speak loudly over the chorus of childrens crying.

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The group was more than 800 miles from where they had crossed the U.S.-Mexico border into South Texas a few days earlier. They say they were put on a plane but weren’t told where they were going. They landed in El Paso, were taken to the international bridge by bus, and returned to Mexico.

When Oyedo asked to borrow a cell phone to call relatives in Georgia, his 8-year-old daughter crouched and vomited on the sidewalk. A street vendor on the bridge, watching the scene, is handing out free water to the children. A mother sits on the floor in front of Mexico’s immigration office, breastfeeding her baby.

“There is no place in the shelters,” says Daniel Martinez, an employee of the federal agency Bienestar in Mexico. “We want to help everyone because we see the situation with families, but we have to give priority to women with children.”

Bienestar is accused of helping vulnerable Mexican families, but is now also providing assistance to migrants. Martinez and two coworkers tried to calm these migrants down and convince them to leave the bridge.

Mexico is struggling to cope with the large number of Central American families who were quickly evicted after entering the United States under Title 42, a health ordinance designed to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

In the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, which borders South Texas, the Mexican authorities have stopped accepting families. In recent weeks, migrants in border protection custody in the Rio Grande Valley have been flown to El Paso. Many are then expelled to Ciudad Juarez.

Daily flights carry hundreds of migrants from one end of Texas to the other, according to Border Patrol.

“Our priority is to process them and distribute them to Mexico under Title 42. However, we are working very closely with the Mexican government and they also have capacity problems that we have to take into account,” said Gloria Chavez, US border protection chief in El Paso said in a statement.

The Border Patrol works with Ciudad Juarez to manage the number of people sent to this border town.

“We were tricked,” says Suri Maldonado, a 27-year-old mother who traveled to South Texas from Guatemala with her toddler last week. At home in Guatemala, she said she heard the US border was open.

“Then we come here,” says Maldonado, “and they send everyone back – mothers with children, everyone.”

She was one of the migrants who were flown to El Paso and recently sent to Ciudad Juarez. Other members of the same group who were expelled had also heard that the border was open before leaving. Most paid what they call “guides,” who are actually smugglers, to get them to the US border.

Dozens of Central American migrants are expelled from the United States across the Paso del Norte-Santa Fe International Bridge from El Paso, Texas, to Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state, Mexico, on March 18. HERIKA MARTINEZ / AFP via Getty Images hide caption

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HERIKA MARTINEZ / AFP via Getty Images

Dozens of Central American migrants are expelled from the United States across the Paso del Norte-Santa Fe International Bridge from El Paso, Texas, to Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state, Mexico, on March 18.

HERIKA MARTINEZ / AFP via Getty Images

Misinformation is helping to fuel this surge in migration from Central America as smuggling networks calm people who seek their way north.

“They’ll be able to get in; that’s what they’re telling them,” says Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, an expert on organized crime and immigration at George Mason University. “We monitored social media like WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram.”

The government of Biden has tried to counter this narrative with radio advertising in Spanish and indigenous languages. She has told potential migrants in Central America that the border is largely closed because of the pandemic and warned them not to “put their families at risk”.

However, critics say it is a mixed message because the government allows migrant children and some asylum seekers to cross.

Meanwhile, smugglers are aggressively marketing to Central Americans desperate to flee poverty, violence and corruption in their home countries. The smugglers show them testimonials from people who say they have reached the US and are fine.

“Through social media, people can know that others did it, and this is the selfie. I’m here. I’m in the US. I’m in this city,” says Correa Cabrera.

But there are no selfies of migrants stranded on the Paso del Norte International Bridge – like Ana Vasquez and her 5-year-old son Rudy. She says she fled El Salvador after gangs killed her husband when they couldn’t pay the extortion fee.

“You killed him and what should I and my son do now?” she asks with tears.

Vasquez says she was turned away by US officials after coming to El Paso last week. She returned to the bridge to see if the Mexican authorities could help her find shelter. She had lived on the streets of Ciudad Juarez with her son, relying on her faith and the kindness of strangers who gave her snacks for her son.

“I know that God is great and that there are always good people on our way,” says Vasquez.

But her 5-year-old is impatient, she says. “He keeps asking, ‘Mom, when can we go home?’ “”