Migrants try to cross the border with the United States by swimming, on October 18, 2023 in Piedras Negras (Mexico). EFE/ Octavio Guzmán

Restrictions fail to stop migrants at US border

Alejandra Arredondo

Eagle Pass/Piedras Negras, US/Mexico, Oct. 24 (EFE) – Despite regulations limiting access to asylum and tight border security, thousands continue to try to enter the United States in search of a better life, while border cities continue to receive record numbers of migrants.

Paola (a fictional name to protect her identity) scans the river with her eyes. With water up to their waists, her companions – six adults, five children and a baby in her arms – are already making their way in.

“I’m nervous, but I came for this,” the young woman tells EFE, just before getting into the water for the last border crossing on her journey across the continent.

Like her, thousands of people have decided to cross irregularly into the US, despite attempts by the Joe Biden administration to discourage and restrict land migration.

Migrants try to cross the border with the United States by swimming, on October 18, 2023 in Piedras Negras (Mexico). EFE/ Octavio Guzmán

Since May, when the new asylum rule went into effect, more than 800,000 people have been detained by US authorities at the southern border, according to the Office of Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

The rule makes migrants ineligible for asylum if they cross the southern border without legal permission and without first seeking humanitarian refuge in another country, such as Mexico, on their journey north.

As Paola and her group cross the shore, they are greeted by meters of concertina, a wire with sharp rectangular blades, and dozens of containers lined up side by side to welcome them to Texas.

The men in Paola’s group take off their shirts and place them on the wire to avoid cutting themselves.

It doesn’t take long for the Border Patrol and the state Department of Public Safety to close in.

An agent grabs a long wooden stick and helps the group out of the river, then leads them into a white van.

What are we doing here?

Piedras Negras, a border town of more than 160,000 people has only one active shelter, and it is bursting at the seams.

Its director, a Franciscan nun from El Salvador, says about 300 people arrive daily, and the old school-turned-shelter can accommodate only a hundred.

“We don’t have the conditions for the number of people who come,” says Sister Isabel Turcios, a small woman with simple frameless glasses.

“What worries us is that the cold will come and people will not be able to stay in the patios as they do in the hot season,” she adds.

Inside the Casa del Migrante (Migrant House), as the shelter is called, people sit wherever they can: on the floor, on the grass, and on what used to be a soccer field.

Isabel Turcios, director of the ‘La casa del migrante’ shelter, speaks during an interview with EFE, on October 18, 2023 in Piedras Negras (Mexico).. EFE/ Octavio Guzmán

Children run around, and some young people clean the entrance with a few brooms and a bucket of water.

Héctor (not his real name) has been at the shelter for one night and says he has not been able to sleep.

He is from Venezuela but lived in Peru for 5 years and says he decided to come to the US because the money he earned was not enough to live on.

“I was working 15 or 16 hours a day, making deliveries, and I could barely pay the rent,” he explains.

Hector got an appointment for late October with the CPB, using the CBP One, an app created by Joe Biden’s administration to promote “legal immigration,” but his wife is still waiting for one.

“It’s a lottery,” the Venezuelan explains.

“That’s why we want to cross now, what are we going to do here, this is very dangerous and we no longer have any money,” he adds.

Luis and his wife, who are traveling with their one-and-a-half-year-old son, were robbed on the freight train that took them from Torreón to Piedras Negras.

“They took everything from us and left us without a single peso,” said the Venezuelan from the state of Barinas, “we are already tired and we will surrender.”

Deterrence Policy doesn’t work

In May, the Democratic administration of Joe Biden imposed a mix of restrictive measures and “new avenues” for legal migration to stem the flow.

There are 1,450 daily CBP One appointments across the border, allowing people to approach a port of entry and apply for asylum.

However, Adam Isaacson, of the Washington-based organization WOLA, tells EFE that it is not enough given the number of people on the move who arrive at the border.

“I don’t think you can stop migration right now. I think people are so desperate to leave that the only thing you can do is contain it for a while,” he says.

The data support his claim: after the new regulations were implemented, the number of monthly apprehensions at the border dropped in June, then rose for three consecutive months in July, August, and September.

People who arrive in Mexico like Luis or Héctor are not going to wait long for an appointment, given the threat of violence, the “lack of services,” and the little money they have, explains Ari Sawyer, researcher at Humans Right Watch.

“As long as the policies of the current government continue to focus only on deterrence, they are truly doomed to fail,” she says.EFE