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Hope of Biden reversal of ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy leads to concerns of new migrant surge for El Paso

EL PASO, Texas -- Who can forget images in 2019 of hundreds of immigrants converging on the El Paso/Juarez Border, the vast majority seeking asylum.

Immigration attorneys and migrant advocates believe Trump administration policies aimed at responding to the unprecedented immigration surge last year could come to an end once President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

Those two groups believe if that happens, it could trigger a second immigration surge.

ABC-7 received exclusive access at how the largest shelter for migrants is preparing in case the surge develops during the pandemic while observing CDC guidelines.

ABC-7 was also given a rare look at inside a shelter in Juarez where asylum seekers under one of those Trump policies are forced to wait for their immigration hearings.

“I am very optimistic, with a great deal of hope that the new Biden administration will be better, right, and that they give us the opportunity because everyone of us have a reason why we left our country. And we are in no condition to return.” said Marta, which is not her real name.

Annunciation House gave ABC-7 access to the shelter it operates in Juarez, where five Central American women agreed to interviews with the understanding their identities would not be revealed.

Marta is from Hondurans. She arrived at the U.S. border a year ago, but was returned to Mexico under the Trump Administration's Migrant Protection Protocols, MPP, also known as the 'Remain in Mexico' policy until her asylum request hearing in front of a judge comes up.

According to the El Paso Times, there are over 60,000 families waiting in Mexico under MPP. These five women are just a handful waiting inside this for more than a year, waiting to have their cases heard.

“Combined population that's close to 70 people. They're all MPP. All MPP families. They're beyond frustrated. Because, again, what many people don't understand is that, since the border was closed, all of the immigration courts have suspended operation," said Ruben Garcia, who runs Annunciation House.

Garcia says in extreme cases if a migrant is able to prove that their lives are being threatened by Mexican cartels in Mexico, they are permitted to enter the U.S. and wait for their cases to be heard in the U.S.

However, for every one migrant who does make it across into the U.S, there are dozens more waiting for their cases to be heard in Mexico.

"I entered the United States. And they sent me back on June 5th,” said Alicia, which is not her real name.

She too is from Honduras. She and her two children, a 1-year-old and 13-year-old, have been waiting in Juarez for almost two years.

"I don't feel like I'm being heard. Since I arrived to immigration, they simply told us, you're going back to Juarez. 'Back to Juarez, I asked?' I'm not familiar with it. Don't know if its dangerous. I'll be with my two children. It was a very traumatic experience," Alicia added.

All five women believe the incoming Biden administration will do away with Trump immigration policies forcing them to stay in Juarez. That sentiment is spreading to migrant advocates, like Annunciation House.

"Annunciation house is beginning to prepare, and we have been preparing now for several weeks,  preparing to be able to respond to a possible surge. I know that this is a concern to Border Patrol and to ICE as we go forward," said Garcia.

The largest migrant shelter had hundreds of migrants inside at the height of the surge and before the pandemic. The building is 130,000 square feet. Pre-pandemic, it could hold more than one thousand migrants.

Annunciation House workers are meeting with the Office of Emergency Management to make sure they comply with CDC guidelines, as well as city and county code enforcement rules, just in case a second immigration surge becomes reality.

The goal is to have proper social distancing between cots.

“Well, the capacity prior to the pandemic was in the neighborhood of 1,100 people in this building. What that capacity is going to be in the pandemic could come down to 250,” Garcia tells ABC-7.

Recently released numbers by Customs and Border Protection show Border Patrol agents are seeing a steady increase in the apprehension of unaccompanied migrant minors.

In April 2020, 712 unaccompanied minors were apprehended along the U.S. border. Apprehensions increased steadily every month reaching a high of 4,661 in October. Then a slight drop in November.

ABC-7 obtained exclusive pictures of unacompanied minors apprehended recently near the railroad tracks off of 375, under the Stanton Street Port of Entry.

Although there is no access to a migrant shelter for minors in Montana Vista, sources tell ABC-7 that shelter is also seeing an increase in minors taken there.

That's because U.S. courts have ruled CBP cannot send children back, they must be turned over to the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

This very likely could be the first wave of a second migrant surge, that is, before policies are overturned, opening the floodgates for women like Marta and Alicia, to cross into the U.S. and request asylum.

"They feel incredibly disillusioned that the system is not working. And they don't know that anyone is really advocating for them. You know they feel forgotten, they feel left behind," Garcia tells ABC-7.

“Having a great deal of patience and confident in God that the new authorities will eliminate the program, because I believe my rights are being violated," said Marta.

ABC-7 requested an interview with the El Paso sector Border Patrol Chief Gloria Chavez, but were told she is unavailable at this time.

Article Topic Follows: On the Border

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Saul Saenz


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