On Mexico’s Border With U.S.,Desperation as Migrant Traffic Piles Up

Mexico is struggling to deal with a new wave of migrants expelled from the U.S. while even more come north hoping to cross. Shelters that were empty four months ago are now having to turn many away.


CIUDAD JUÁREZ, Mexico — The migrants’ hopes have been drummed up by human smugglers who promise that President Biden’s administration will welcome them.

Instead, the United States is expelling them back to Mexico, where they wait along with tens of thousands of others hoping to cross. The pressure, and desperation, is quickly building among families stuck in Mexico, as shelters and officials struggle to help them.

In the United States, the federal authorities are scrambling to manage a sharp increase in children who are crossing the border on their own and then being held in detention facilities, often longer than permitted by law. And the twinned crises on both sides of the border show no sign of abating.

Near the crossing with El Paso, Texas, a group of mothers and fathers clutching their children were sobbing as they walked back into Mexico from the United States on Saturday. They walked unsteadily, in sneakers too loose after their shoelaces were confiscated and discarded along with all their other personal items when they were detained by the United States Customs and Border Protection.

natural disasters in Central America wiped away livelihoods.

the thousands of unaccompanied migrant children who are filling up detention facilities after Mr. Biden said, shortly after taking office, that his administration would no longer turn back unaccompanied minors.

Mexican officials and shelter operators say the number of children, with parents or unaccompanied, is reaching levels not seen since 2018. Late that year, tens of thousands of migrants headed for the border each month, prompting Mr. Trump’s administration to separate families and lock them up. Hundreds of children remain separated from their parents to this day.

as it did during the Trump administration, officials said.

A Mexican Foreign Ministry official said the government was within its right to deport illegal migrants but did not comment on whether raids had increased in recent weeks or whether the Mexican government was responding to a U.S. request.

At the international bridge on Saturday, Dagoberto Pineda, a Honduran migrant, looked shocked as he discreetly wiped away tears and held his 6-year-old son’s hand. He had thought he was entering the United States, but here he was in Ciudad Juárez, crying underneath a Mexican flag. He asked Mr. Valenzuela and New York Times journalists for help: Was he allowed in or not?

massive hurricane hurtled through Mr. Pineda’s town late last year, destroying the banana plantation he worked on, owned by Chiquita Brands International. After years of paying Mr. Pineda about $12 a day to help fill American grocery stores with fresh fruit, the company laid him off. When coyotes offered him a chance to cross into the United States for $6,000 — more than his annual salary — he took it.

Mr. Pineda had crossed from Tamaulipas State into southern Texas, where he was detained by American officials for several days. When he was flown 600 miles to a second detention center in El Paso, Texas, he thought his entry into the United States had finally been granted.

Instead, on Saturday, border patrol agents released him on the Paso del Norte bridge, linking El Paso to Ciudad Juárez, and told him to walk in the direction of the Mexican flags.

Over the past week, Mexican officials and shelter operators like the International Organization of Migration said they had been surprised by the Department of Homeland Security’s new practice of detaining migrants at one point of the sprawling border only to fly them hundreds of miles away to be expelled at a different border town.

The United States is doing this under a federal order known as Title 42. The order, introduced by Mr. Trump but embraced by Mr. Biden, justifies rapid expulsions as a health measure amid the pandemic. But cramming migrants into airplanes and overcrowded detention facilities without any coronavirus testing defeats the purpose of Title 42, observers say.

Stephanie Malin, a spokeswoman for Customs and Border Protection, said that the American authorities had seen “an increase in encounters” but that to adhere to federal guidelines for Covid-19, border officials were “expeditiously” transferring migrants out of their custody.

“Trump got his wall, it’s called Title 42,” said Rubén Garcia, the founder of Annunciation House, one of the largest shelter networks in the United States, based in El Paso.

Still, the new surge of migrants is straining resources throughout the system. Last Sunday, Mr. Garcia said, he was left with barely 30 minutes to prepare after being told by the authorities that 200 migrants were about to be deposited at his shelter, none of them tested for Covid-19.

“I’m on calls with staffers at the White House and D.H.S. and when I’m on those calls I say: ‘You’re not prepared. You’re not prepared for what is about to happen,’” Mr. Garcia said in an interview, using the acronym for the Department of Homeland Security.

Across the border, Mexican officials are also ill-prepared to handle the rising number of migrants, with shelters at a breaking point.

If Mr. Valenzuela’s daughter had not looked up from her book to spot the families crossing the border, all 19 migrants would have been dumped in downtown Ciudad Juárez, one of Mexico’s most dangerous cities, at the mercy of the cartels or human traffickers.

The night before, Mr. Valenzuela welcomed 45 families with little time to prepare.

Under Mr. Trump’s Remain in Mexico Policy, which deported migrants to Mexico to wait out their court cases for asylum in the United States, communication and coordination was better between the various organizations operating along the border, shelter operators and Mexican officials said. Mr. Biden ended that policy in January and promised to start processing some of the 25,000 migrants enrolled in that program. In recent weeks, hundreds have been let in.

Jettner, 29, a migrant from Honduras, is one of those who was allowed in to the United States. After waiting for nearly two years on the border with his wife and two daughters, it took them barely an hour on Friday to be processed and let in. He swiftly went to his sister’s house in Dallas.

As he walked up the bridge, leaving Ciudad Juárez behind as he strode toward El Paso, he was confident. “My life is going to change 180 degrees,” said Jettner, who asked that only his first name be used, fearing reprisals for his family back home. “I am going to a place where I will be well and have a decent roof over the heads of my daughters.”

Though American officials insist that the border is closed to new migrants, that has not stopped thousands from making the dangerous journey north, most from Central America.

Just four months ago, the Filter Hotel shelter in Ciudad Juárez was so empty that they used several rooms as storage. The shelter, run by the International Organization of Migration, now has signs on its door declaring “no space.”

Of the 1,165 people the Filter Hotel has processed since early May, nearly 39 percent were minors, most of them younger than 12, employees said. Its staff often has to shoo smugglers away when they loiter around shelter entrances.

Gladys Oneida Pérez Cruz, 48, and her 23-year-old son, Henry Arturo Menjívar Pérez, who has cerebral palsy, came to the shelter after being expelled from the United States late last month. Shortly after Mr. Biden’s inauguration, smugglers began cruising her neighborhood in Honduras for business, falsely putting out the word that the United States border was open.

Ms. Pérez hoped to join her sister in Maryland, and to find work that would help her afford medicine for her son.

A coyote charged her $9,000 for the trip — a steeper price than she expected, but it came with the promise she would travel by car and his colleagues would help her carry her son across the border, as he had to leave his wheelchair behind. Her sister wired the money. She and her son embarked on the dangerous trek on Feb. 7, she said. Nearly two weeks later, the smugglers dumped them at the border and said they would have to cross on their own.

They managed to cross after hours of effort, but were quickly detained by American border patrol agents and expelled back to Mexico. She has decided to return to Honduras, preferring to face poverty rather than risk being killed or kidnapped in Mexico.

“I apologize for having tried to enter the United States like this, but it was because of my need and my son’s illness,” she said through her tears.

“Biden promised us that everything was going to change,” she said. “He hasn’t done it yet, but he is going to be a good president for migrants.”

Albinson Linares contributed reporting from Juárez, Mexico.

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Biden Administration Directs FEMA to Help Shelter Migrant Children

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is directing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist in processing an increasing number of children and teenagers who have filled detention facilities at the southwest border, as criticism mounts over the treatment of young migrants.

FEMA, which normally provides financial assistance during natural disasters, will help find shelter space and provide “food, water and basic medical care” to thousands of young migrants, Michael Hart, a spokesman for the agency, said in a statement.

The administration also asked officials in the Homeland Security Department to volunteer “to help care for and assist unaccompanied minors” who have been held in border jails that are managed by Customs and Border Protection.

Previous administrations have also dispatched FEMA to help process migrants during surges in border crossings. However, the Biden administration cannot use disaster aid funding to support the processing of migrants in Texas after they cross the border without the consent of Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican. States must request the funding from the federal government.

9,457 children, including teenagers, were detained at the border without a parent in February, up from more than 5,800 in January.

The Biden administration has so far failed to quickly process the young migrants and transfer them to shelters managed by the Department of Health and Human Services, where they are held until the government matches them with a sponsor. The administration has struggled to expand the capacity of those shelters, where roughly 8,500 migrants were held this week. The Biden administration recently directed the shelters intended to hold the children to return to normal capacity, despite the coronavirus pandemic.

surge of crossings is adding new pressure in a divisive policy fight that the last three administrations have also confronted.

Mr. Biden’s critics have moved quickly in recent days to blame him for the increase of arrivals that they say threatens the country’s safety, economic recovery and health as the coronavirus pandemic continues to claim thousands of lives.

Many of them appear eager to shift attention away from the president’s handling of the pandemic and his $1.9 trillion stimulus bill, which has been well received by the public, and toward an issue that could unite the Republican Party in opposition to Democrats.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday called the influx of migrants, particularly children, “a humanitarian challenge to all of us.” But she was determined to cast blame on Mr. Trump and his policies, and longstanding unrest in Central America that had driven waves of migrants north.

“What the administration has inherited is a broken system at the border, and they are working to correct that in the children’s interest,” she said on “This Week” on ABC.

Representative Veronica Escobar, Democrat of Texas, who had also pointed to the Trump administration, said she found the situation at a processing facility that she had toured in El Paso on Friday “unacceptable.”

Nicholas Fandos and Chris Cameron contributed reporting.

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President Biden Faces Challenge From Surge of Migrants at the Border

WASHINGTON — Thousands of migrant children are backed up in United States detention facilities along the border with Mexico, part of a surge of immigration from Central Americans fleeing poverty and violence that could overwhelm President Biden’s attempt to create a more humane approach to those seeking entry into the country.

The number of migrant children in custody along the border has tripled in the past two weeks to more than 3,250, according to federal immigration agency documents obtained by The New York Times, and many of them are being held in jail-like facilities for longer than the three days allowed by law.

The problem for the administration is both the number of children crossing the border and what to do with them once they are in custody. Under the law, the children are supposed to be moved to shelters run by the Health and Human Services Department, but because of the pandemic the shelters until last week were limiting how many children they could accommodate.

The growing number of unaccompanied children is just one element of an escalating problem at the border. Border agents encountered a migrant at the border about 78,000 times in January — more than double the rate at the same time a year ago and higher than in any January in a decade.

refused to call a “crisis” but could nevertheless become a potent political weapon for his Republican adversaries and upend his efforts to legalize millions of undocumented immigrants.

The president has proposed overhauling the nation’s decades-old immigration system by making it easier for asylum seekers and refugees, expanding legal pathways for foreign workers, increasing opportunities for family-based immigration and vastly reducing threats of mass deportations. His State Department announced on Monday that foreigners rejected after Jan. 20, 2020, under Mr. Trump’s travel ban could try to obtain visas without paying additional fees.

Hundreds of migrant families are also being released into the United States after being apprehended at the border, prompting predictable attacks by conservatives.

Liberal politicians are denouncing the expansion of detention facilities and railing against the continued imposition of Trump-era rules intended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus from immigrants. And advocates for families separated at the border during Mr. Trump’s administration are pressuring the president to move faster to reunite them.

Together, it has put Mr. Biden on the defensive in the early days of his presidency as he attempts to demonstrate a tone very different from his predecessor’s.

The immigration system Mr. Biden envisions will take months, if not years, to be fully implemented, forcing the administration to scramble to find space for children and rely, for now, on a rule that swiftly returns adults and most families to their home countries.

For now, Mr. Biden has broken from his predecessor in not applying the pandemic emergency rule to children, meaning the United States is still responsible for caring for them until they are placed with a sponsor.

long-term detention facilities within 72 hours.

But for now, using the same pandemic rule the Trump administration did, the Biden administration has continued to turn away most migrants other than unaccompanied children.

And almost as soon as Mr. Biden came into office, top administration officials publicly sought to discourage migrants from traveling north, saying it would take time to unravel Mr. Trump’s policies. Previous public messaging campaigns, including standing up billboards in Central America to encourage migrants to stay home, have failed.

“Realistically, one is addressing a population of people that are desperate,” Mr. Mayorkas said in an interview. “It is not going to work 100 percent, but if it is effective at all, that is of momentous importance not only to what we are trying to do but for the well being of the people.”

Some families are being released into the United States. Border agents have not been able to turn away migrant families in South Texas because of a change in Mexican law that bans the detention of small children.

Administration officials point to a flurry of actions underway aimed at fixing what they say is a broken immigration system: improving communications between the Border Patrol and the health department, including whether the children being transported to the long-term centers are boys or girls; streamlining background checks for shelter employees; and vaccinating border workers against the coronavirus.

They are also accelerating efforts to get new facilities to care for children during the weeks and months that it takes to find relatives or foster parents. They are considering unused school buildings, military bases and federal facilities that could be rapidly converted into places acceptable for children.

And they are restarting a program in Central America that will allow children to apply for asylum without making the dangerous trek to the border. Mr. Trump ended the program, which Biden administration officials said would eventually reduce the flow of migrant children to the United States.

But all of that will take time. Meanwhile, officials say, they recognize that the pressure on Mr. Biden will only increase.

“At every step of the way we’re looking at where are the bottlenecks and then trying to eliminate those bottlenecks and yes it won’t be solved by tomorrow,” said Esther Olavarria, the deputy director for immigration at the White House’s Domestic Policy Council. “But if you don’t start to do each of these things, you are never going to solve the problem.”

Annie Karni and Maggie Haberman contributed reporting.

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Biden Faces Challenge From Surge of Migrants at the Border

WASHINGTON — Thousands of migrant children are backed up in United States detention facilities along the border with Mexico, part of a surge of immigration from Central Americans fleeing poverty and violence that could overwhelm President Biden’s attempt to create a more humane approach to those seeking entry into the country.

The number of migrant children in custody along the border has tripled in the past two weeks to more than 3,250, according to federal immigration agency documents obtained by The New York Times, and many of them are being held in jail-like facilities for longer than the three days allowed by law.

The problem for the administration is both the number of children crossing the border and what to do with them once they are in custody. Under the law, the children are supposed to be moved to shelters run by the Health and Human Service Department, but because of the pandemic the shelters until last week were limiting how many children they could accommodate.

The growing number of unaccompanied children is just one element of an escalating problem at the border. Border agents encountered a migrant at the border about 78,000 times in January — more than double the rate at the same time a year ago and higher than in any January in a decade.

refused to call a “crisis” but could nevertheless become a potent political weapon for his Republican adversaries and upend his efforts to legalize millions of undocumented immigrants.

The president has proposed overhauling the nation’s decades-old immigration system by making it easier for asylum seekers and refugees, expanding legal pathways for foreign workers, increasing opportunities for family-based immigration and vastly reducing threats of mass deportations. His State Department announced on Monday that foreigners rejected after Jan. 20, 2020, under Mr. Trump’s travel ban could try to obtain visas without paying additional fees.

Hundreds of migrant families are also being released into the United States after being apprehended at the border, prompting predictable attacks by conservatives.

Liberal politicians are denouncing the expansion of detention facilities and railing against the continued imposition of Trump-era rules intended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus from immigrants. And advocates for families separated at the border during Mr. Trump’s administration are pressuring the president to move faster to reunite them.

Together, it has put Mr. Biden on the defensive in the early days of his presidency as he attempts to demonstrate a tone very different from his predecessor’s.

The immigration system Mr. Biden envisions will take months, if not years, to be fully implemented, forcing the administration to scramble to find space for children and rely, for now, on a rule that swiftly returns adults and most families to their home countries.

For now, Mr. Biden has broken from his predecessor in not applying the pandemic emergency rule to children, meaning the United States is still responsible for caring for them until they are placed with a sponsor.

long-term detention facilities within 72 hours.

But for now, using the same pandemic rule the Trump administration did, the Biden administration has continued to turn away most migrants other than unaccompanied children.

And almost as soon as Mr. Biden came into office, top administration officials publicly sought to discourage migrants from traveling north, saying it would take time to unravel Mr. Trump’s policies. Previous public messaging campaigns, including standing up billboards in Central America to encourage migrants to stay home, have failed.

“Realistically, one is addressing a population of people that are desperate,” Mr. Mayorkas said in an interview. “It is not going to work 100 percent, but if it is effective at all, that is of momentous importance not only to what we are trying to do but for the well being of the people.”

Some families are being released into the United States. Border agents have not been able to turn away migrant families in South Texas because of a change in Mexican law that bans the detention of small children.

Administration officials point to a flurry of actions underway aimed at fixing what they say is a broken immigration system: improving communications between the Border Patrol and the health department, including whether the children being transported to the long-term centers are boys or girls; streamlining background checks for shelter employees; and vaccinating border workers against the coronavirus.

They are also accelerating efforts to get new facilities to care for children during the weeks and months that it takes to find relatives or foster parents. They are considering unused school buildings, military bases and federal facilities that could be rapidly converted into places acceptable for children.

And they are restarting a program in Central America that will allow children to apply for asylum without making the dangerous trek to the border. Mr. Trump ended the program, which Biden administration officials said would eventually reduce the flow of migrant children to the United States.

But all of that will take time. Meanwhile, officials say, they recognize that the pressure on Mr. Biden will only increase.

“At every step of the way we’re looking at where are the bottlenecks and then trying to eliminate those bottlenecks and yes it won’t be solved by tomorrow,” said Esther Olavarria, the deputy director for immigration at the White House’s Domestic Policy Council. “But if you don’t start to do each of these things, you are never going to solve the problem.”

Annie Karni and Maggie Haberman contributed reporting.

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Biden Gives Venezuelans Reprieve to Remain in U.S. Trump Had Rejected

WASHINGTON — As many as 320,000 Venezuelans living in the United States were given an 18-month reprieve on Monday from the threat of being deported, as the Biden administration sought to highlight how dangerous that country has become under President Nicolás Maduro.

The immigrants also will be allowed to work legally in the United States as part of the temporary protective status the administration issued as it considers the next steps in a yearslong American pressure campaign to force Mr. Maduro from power.

“The living conditions in Venezuela reveal a country in turmoil, unable to protect its own citizens,” Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, said in a statement. “It is in times of extraordinary and temporary circumstances like these that the United States steps forward to support eligible Venezuelan nationals already present here, while their home country seeks to right itself out of the current crises.”

Venezuela is mired in one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises under Mr. Maduro, who, through a mix of corruption and neglect, oversaw the decay of the country’s oil infrastructure that had propped up its economy. The United Nations has estimated that up to 94 percent of Venezuela’s population lives in poverty, with millions of people bereft of regular access to water, food and medicine.

Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader and former head of Venezuela’s National Assembly, as the country’s legitimate leader.

But one of the officials who briefed reporters on Monday on condition that he not be identified said the Biden administration was reviewing whether to lift a raft of economic sanctions that experts believe have cost Venezuela’s government has much as $31 billion since 2017.

The official said that review would assess whether the economic pressure exacted against Mr. Maduro and his government was worth the risk of exacerbating the dire living conditions for Venezuelans.

The new protections were welcomed by Democrats and Republicans in Congress who had appeared divided on the approach to immigration policy under Mr. Trump.

Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, said he supported the protections, although “it is critical that we continue working with our democratic allies to secure a Venezuela free from tyranny and ensure this temporary status in the U.S. does not become a permanent one.”

Senators Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, both Democrats, noted that earlier efforts to allow Venezuelan immigrants to remain in the United States were blocked by the former president’s supporters in Congress.

“For years, the world watched in horror as man-made humanitarian and political crises turned Venezuela into a failed state,” the senators said in a joint statement. “Despite these disastrous and dangerous conditions, Venezuelans were still forcibly deported back to their country by the Trump administration.”

federal appeals court sided with the Trump administration’s argument that immigrants from places like El Salvador, Haiti and Sudan, which were recovering from disasters or political turmoil, no longer needed safe haven in the United States.

Monday’s announcement signaled that the Biden administration was likely to continue at least some of the protections.

Roberto Marrero, a Venezuelan opposition leader who moved to Florida after spending a year and a half in jail in Venezuela, called Monday’s decision a “bittersweet victory.”

“It gives us protection,” he said, “but also reminds us that we’re here because there’s a dictatorship in our country.”

Lara Jakes reported from Washington, and Anatoly Kurmanaev from Bogotá, Colombia.

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