The decision to limit the U.S. pandemic border leaves thousands in limbo

After fleeing Cameroon in 2018, Joy worked and traveled across Latin America. She has now been waiting for two years in northern Mexico for a chance to seek U.S. asylum, and a decision by a Louisiana judge on Friday means she can wait several months.

“I lost everything, but they never received me, they never considered my case,” Joy, who works as a community organizer in a nonprofit, said of the United States. “Here in Tijuana, it’s not a safe place.”

Joy is one of thousands of migrants at the border who are back in limbo this week after a US judge blocked President Joe Biden’s attempt to reopen much of the country’s asylum system by repealing a measure known as Title 42, which allows for the expulsion of migrants as a pandemic health protection.

The judge granted a request from a group of Republican-led states to block the Biden administration from repealing Title 42, implemented by the Trump administration in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Biden administration had wanted to repeal it as soon as Monday. It has said it will appeal the decision.

The administration has said it is necessary to lift the order, although it has acknowledged that an increase in migration is likely to follow – the ruling, quoted by the Department of Homeland Security, estimates that attempted crossings will increase from 7,000 to 18,000 a day.

There were almost 1.7 million. attempts to cross the U.S. southern border in the most recent fiscal year to September, the highest in at least 22 years, and this year it is set to break that record again, according to data from the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.

But activists have also pointed out that the emergency removals, which have no legal consequences, have already contributed to an increase in illegal crossings by encouraging more attempts.

Since taking office nearly 18 months ago, Biden has struggled to formulate a comprehensive strategy for immigration, an issue that polarizes voters and which former President Donald Trump took advantage of to win in 2016.

Biden faces a riddle about how far to undo measures that activists say are inhumane and ineffective, but which have support in some states where Democrats are vulnerable in the midterm elections in November. Republicans are eager to paint Biden and his party as opening the borders to a stream of immigration.

The battle for title 42 has only increased the confusion and dysfunction of immigration policy, activists said.

“The border remains essentially a confusing patchwork of policies with little rhyme or reason behind them,” said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, senior policy adviser at the American Immigration Council. “Has it made the border less chaotic? No, obviously not, we had two years with the title 42 in place and the border is still hugely chaotic. “

At least 27,000 people are currently on informal lists waiting in Mexican border towns to apply for asylum in the United States, according to the University of Texas’ Strauss Center for International Security and Law. These lists emerged after the Trump administration allowed border patrol officers to limit the number of asylum seekers who can cross every day.

A separate policy known as “Remain in Mexico”, where asylum seekers await their hearings south of the border, is currently being reviewed by the Supreme Court.

In Mexican cities along the border, some havens are close to capacity with people from all over Central and South America, and also many from further afield, such as West Africa. New migrants are coming all the time, but others have now been there for years under difficult and dangerous conditions.

The homicide rate in Mexico is close to record highs – the border town of Tijuana has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. Violence endangers migrants and those who provide important services to them. A pastor who runs a shelter for migrants in Tecate, Baja California, was found dead this week.

“I get text messages every day from people telling me about the dangers they continue to face and about their fears,” said Savi Arvey, political adviser on migrant rights and the justice team at the Women’s Refugee Commission. “I have spoken to Central Americans who have crossed the border with their families several times to seek asylum.”

The dangers in Mexico and the lack of legal consequences for deportation under section 42 mean that many migrants try to cross several times. More than a third of the border patrol meetings in April were with people who had already been caught crossing the same month, CBP data show.

Organized crime has also adapted to the new policies where human traffickers offer packages with multiple crossing attempts instead of one, advocates said.

The U.S. Congress is unlikely to provide the comprehensive long-term solution that activists say is needed. The fate of Title 42 has divided some Democrats, and some say they may support Republican attempts to write it into law.

“Over the last decade, we have tried more and more draconian policies to reject asylum seekers or impose harder and harder consequences on them,” Reichlin-Melnick said. “Absolutely none of them have worked in the long run.”

Marisa Limón Garza, senior director of advocacy and programming at the rights group Hope Border Institute, said the extension of Title 42 would mean more need for mental health services for those who have been put on hold. “So much is beyond your control that you really have to accompany people from that point of view, the very human reality,” she said.

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