JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) — Juarez officials let out a big sigh of relief on Wednesday afternoon, as U.S. authorities again began calling asylum seekers waiting in Juarez for an initial interview.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) stopped calling numbers on July 20 due to lack of space in processing facilities and other factors related to the management of individuals in detention.
Fifteen migrants — out of a remaining list of more than 5,500 — were called on Wednesday at 4:30 p.m., said Enrique Valenzuela, head of the Chihuahua State Population Council, which is helping CBP manage the waiting list of asylum seekers. All 15 candidates for asylum were Cubans — 11 males and four females, including a 12-year-old girl.
“This will obviously relieve some of the pressure that was building up because many (migrants) on the list were becoming very impatient. They didn’t know what was going on,” Valenzuela said.
The Mexican official and his staff have been talking daily with anxious Cubans, Central Americans and others who wanted to know if the United States would no longer take asylum seekers. “We tried to calm them down, to give them the information that we had been given and to encourage them to present their claims through an established, orderly process,” Valenzuela said.
The last time a similar interruption in the flow of asylum seekers happened, some 200 Cubans and Central Americans tried to rush the Paso del Norte Bridge but were turned back by CBP officers in riot gear.
The Mexican official said he has also been trying to discourage the migrants from turning to human smugglers or attempt a dangerous, surreptitious crossing into the United States.
“There are some people who have had contact with ‘coyotes’ (smugglers) to attempt to cross into the United States. We don’t want them to do that because it’s risky, but we know that it happens. Police sometimes bring us people and sometimes we go get them to take them to an established shelter,” he said.
A total of 17,637 migrants have signed up for asylum hearings in the Juarez-El Paso area this year, and 12,088 had been called as of July 20, Valenzuela said. The official said not as many migrants are coming to Juarez since mid-June. That’s when the Mexican government, under threat by the Trump administration to stop the flow of migrants north, deployed its newly created National Guard to the border with Guatemala and to the banks of the Rio Grande.
After learning that CBP was once again calling asylum seekers, a group of Cubans near the Paso del Norte Bridge expressed mixed feelings.
“That is good. I’m happy, but I hope they don’t stop calling people again tomorrow or next week, said Ramon, from Holguin, Cuba. He and others gathered in the vicinity of Juarez’s Migrant Assistance Center said they are tired of waiting in Juarez, where the threat of violence is always present.
“The other day a Mexican with a tear-shaped tattoo came by offering cheap rental apartments. One of our countrymen followed him, and came back later, running and scared, because the guy took him to an abandoned house and tried to rob him,” Ramon said.
Another Cuban migrant, who identified himself only as Hector, said the U.S. government is making things unnecessarily complicated for Cuban migrants seeking asylum.
“Look, 90 percent of us have relatives in the United States who we can stay with. Just let us start the process and release us to their care. They have houses, they have jobs, they can make themselves responsible for us,” Hector said. “Here they make you wait for three months in Juarez, they have you (in El Paso) for a couple of days and then they sent you back to Juarez to wait again for months. It’s ridiculous.”
Valenzuela said the majority of people waiting for asylum hearings in Juarez are Cuban professionals, followed by Honduran and Guatemalan families, Salvadorans, Venezuelans and others.