US political change offers fresh hope for migrants stranded in Mexico

By Abraham Pineda-Jacome

Matamoros, Mexico, Jan 21 (efe-epa).- Migrants stranded in this northern border city while awaiting resolution of their asylum cases in the United States are hoping the ascendancy of Joe Biden to the presidency will bring an end to their plight.

The people of different nationalities gathered at a makeshift camp and in different shelters in Matamoros, across the border from Brownsville, Texas, fled poverty and other difficult circumstances in their homelands and have never had it easy in Mexico, but their hardships were further exacerbated by the economic collapse triggered by measures to contain the coronavirus.

Nearly two years have passed since then-President Donald Trump, who left office on Wednesday, launched his Migrant Protection Protocols action, also known as “Remain in Mexico.”

Under the terms of that program, nearly 70,000 migrants have been required to stay in Mexico – many of them for months – pending resolution of their asylum applications in US courts.

In justifying the program, the Trump administration said that during fiscal year 2019 the US “faced a security and humanitarian crisis across the US Southwest Border when nearly a million aliens who entered the United States illegally or without proper documentation were apprehended or encountered by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP).”

But the winds of change are blowing.

In his first day in office, Biden announced the suspension of those protocols but also asked migrants who have been placed into that program to remain “where they are, pending further official information.”

News about Biden’s immigration measures are the talk of the migrant camp, which once housed more than 2,000 people but currently is home to around 700.

“You have to be patient. You can’t give in. Faith and God will help you. Yes, food is scarce, but it’s never been lacking” completely, Maria Guadalupe, a native of Guatemala, told Efe on Thursday.

She and her husband, who uses crutches to walk, have lived for the past 21 months in a tent on the banks of the Rio Grande, which serves as the natural border between Mexico and the US.

Crossing the river into the United States illegally is not an alternative, and after taking enormous pains to emigrate they have no intention of returning home.

Maria, who has witnessed first-hand the expansion and decline of the migrant camp in Matamoros, is waiting patiently for more encouraging news for the mostly Central American and Cuban migrants subject to the MPP, a program that activists say has been a failure.

“Everybody’s happy here. The Cubans listen to the news, jump around, do all kinds of things. God above all else. We’re going to get in, you have to have patience,” the woman said.

Meanwhile, in a clear sign that a much more immigrant-friendly administration is now in office, Biden on Wednesday introduced an immigration bill that, if approved, will offer a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented migrants in the US.

In Matamoros, conditions are particularly difficult for migrants who are not living at the camp and must earn a living every day, many of whom have suffered mistreatment at the hands of unscrupulous employers and at times even been denied their wages.

“It’s hard for those of us living outside (the camp). We’re exploited here by bosses who don’t want to pay,” Roberto Hernandez, a native of El Salvador, said.

He went to the camp because a countrywoman there will supply him with some food donated every two weeks by several non-governmental organizations. His wages barely cover the cost of rent and other basic services and little is left over for groceries.

“We’re happy that a president (Biden) is coming in who is reasonable, who has humanity, and we feel that. Those feelings breed confidence,” Hernandez said.

Like the other migrants, Hernandez hopes Biden keeps his promise to regularize the status of undocumented migrants already living in the US and looks to expedite the resolution of asylum cases, which have been stalled since the onset of the pandemic in the US.

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