EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — In the first few hours in office, President Joe Biden signed several executive orders rolling back on some Trump-era immigration policies, many of those having a direct effect on the Borderland.
One of those orders, the “Remain in Mexico” program, also known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, where those waiting in El Paso on their asylum claims were sent to wait their case in Juarez.
Following that order, a small group of migrants attempted to march on the Paso Del Norte International Bridge into the United States to seek asylum.
That attempt caused Mexican authorities to briefly close the entrance to the bridge after some migrants and CBP officers got into a scuffle. CBP said it was quickly resolved and Mexican officials took that group into custody.
Some of those individuals seeking asylum said they hoped things would change with Biden as president and said they were calling on him to help. However, local immigration advocacy groups said despite the suspension of MPP, migrants could still face complicated entries.
“There’s still a lot of confusion especially for people who aren’t represented because, again, although MPP has ended, we still have all these COVID-health restrictions in place,” Brooke Bischoff, the managing attorney with Las Americas, said.
While some local advocacy groups praise the president’s move, they said the fate of many of those waiting in Mexico remains unclear at the moment.
“This really is still a wait and watch situation, ending the program is great but again we’re going to see the difference once people are allowed out of the program and into the interior of the United States,” Bischoff said.
The waiting game, coupled with other complications such as COVID-19 border restrictions has advocacy groups “in limbo.” Some restrictions include a pause to non-essential travel across the border and Title 42 of the Public Health Safety Act, which allows for the immediate expulsion of most unauthorized crossers back to Mexico.
“If they’re allowed into the United States, certainly then any COVID-19 restrictions will limit the numbers of people and how quickly they can be processed,” Melissa Lopez, the Executive Director of the Diocesan Migrant & Refugee Services, said.
Lopez said for their clients at the moment in the now-suspended program, they can’t really do much to advise them on the next step for now.
“It’s incredibly frustrating, I mean on the one hand you’re so excited to see the end of a program that has caused so much suffering for so many people, but on the other hand it puts us in a position that’s really difficult because we don’t know how to advise our clients or what kind of advice to give people that are waiting in Juarez,” Lopez said.
The Remain in Mexico policy went into effect in early 2019 and sent thousands of people seeking asylum in El Paso to wait for their case in Juarez. However, it’s unclear how many remain waiting.
“We have lost several, I would say, 5 or 6 family sets of clients who have just given up and not been able to survive waiting in Juarez for their asylum claims and often end up returning home to dangerous situations,” Bischoff said.
Back to the migrant group on the Paso Del Norte International Bridge on Thursday, a Venezuelan national said his family was seeking shelter from dangerous living situations in their home country, while a woman said many of her family were killed.