Central American migrants are grateful for the Biden administration’s plans to admit them to the United States while their asylum claims are processed. But many still worry about future obstacles.
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Now to the border, where tens of thousands of migrants have spent nearly two years in squalid tent camps and shelters in dangerous towns in northern Mexico. A Trump administration rule had kept them in Mexico while they waited for their asylum applications. The Biden administration says it will soon allow them entry into the United States while their cases are being processed. NPR’s Carrie Kahn in Tijuana.
CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: It’s been more than two years since a gang beat up the husband of Ruth Araceli Monroy, 27. She says the family couldn’t cope with increasing extortion payments on their small bakery in El Salvador, so they fled north. She ticks off all the shelters her family has lived in since.
RUTH ARACELI MONROY: (speaking Spanish).
KAHN: She was seven years old when her husband, Juan Carlos Perla, 33, intervened. Don’t forget the worst place, he said. In Tijuana, without money or work, they slept in an abandoned school bus.
JUAN CARLOS PERLA: (speaking Spanish).
KAHN: “There were rats scurrying at us at night,” he said, stretching out his hands to show how big they were. Their three children, ages 8, 6 and 3, were covered in mosquito bites and bed bugs. Like thousands of others here in Tijuana, Perla and Monroy had to wait in Mexico so they could present their case to a US immigration judge.
MONROY: (speaking Spanish).
KAHN: “It feels like forever,” Monroy says. Before January 2019, migrants who traveled to the southwestern United States border to seek asylum were generally allowed to enter the country to live with relatives. But former President Trump instead sent those migrants back to Mexico to await the completion of their court cases under a program known as Remain in Mexico, or MPP. No less than 70,000 people took part in the programme. Starting Friday, the Biden administration said 25,000 people who still have open cases in the MPP will be allowed to enter the United States to await the completion of their asylum procedures. Monroy says she is grateful to the new US president.
MONROY: (speaking Spanish).
KAHN: “We are just humble people looking for protection, for peace,” she says. Migrant rights advocates say they have documented more than a thousand cases of kidnapping, assault and rape against migrants in Mexico. Alex Mensing, an Innovation Lab lawyer in Tijuana, applauds the new plan but says he worries about the many other migrants who will be left behind. These did not even have the chance to enroll in the MPP. Last March, the Trump administration, citing COVID concerns, began deporting asylum seekers without due process. Instead, their names were put on waiting lists run by Mexican officials.
ALEX MENSING: There are tens of thousands of people on these waiting lists across the border patiently waiting to try to save their lives and get into the United States so they can apply. asylum. They were all left out.
KAHN: In Tijuana alone, this list has nearly 10,000 names. But even those who are still registered with the MPP, like Kensy Valladares, 33, worry about their fate.
UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Song in Spanish).
KAHN: She came to this migrant shelter, where volunteers sing religious hymns to children, to pick up her 7-year-old daughter. She stays there while Valladares works at a nearby tortilla shop. It’s been a tough two years in Tijuana with two young children, she said. She has had four trials in San Diego and is terrified of being sent back to Honduras. Gang members killed her eldest son and threatened her.
KENSY VALLADARES: (speaking Spanish).
KAHN: “I told the judge, judge, you can’t send me back to my country. The day you do this, my two children and I will be dead.” It is also the fear of Juan Carlos Perla. He is the father of three children from El Salvador.
PERLA: (speaking Spanish).
KAHN: “If the United States sends us back, they might as well send five coffins with us. We will be killed as soon as we get off the plane,” he said.
Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Tijuana.
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