Juan José stood on the banks of Mexico’s Rio Grande, his brown eyes fixed on the long, winding river just above the water. There, about 200 people waited to enter the United States, part of the recent influx of asylum seekers headed to the border city of El Paso, Texas.
But the 19-year-old Venezuelan is not among them. In the three days since his arrival, Juan José has been waiting for his time, waiting to see if a controversial US border policy known as Title 42 will end.
A rarely used section of the United States Code dating from 1944, Title 42 allows the federal government to deny asylum seekers on public health grounds. Former President Donald Trump first invoked the law in March 2020, as the United States grapples with the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
In November, a US District Court judge declared the policy “arbitrary and capricious”, Title 42 final verdict. But the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday stepped in to temporarily block the proposed expiration date, set for December 21. The decision was made in response to a petition by Republican officials. peacekeepers in 19 states, who have warned of a spike in asylum seekers if Title 42 expires.
Title 42 uncertainty has left individuals like Juan José in limbo, uncertain about their future. And cities like El Paso continue to prepare for an increase in border crossings, with El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser declaring a state of emergency on Saturday.
When a bitter wind blew his rough coat away, Juan José shoved his trembling hands into his pockets and told his story. It’s been exactly two months since he left home for America; he didn’t tell his parents about his plans until he was already in Colombia.
His father was “surprised and sad,” said Juan José, but he understood his son’s desire to earn money to take care of his brothers. Besides, what can his father do about it anyway? “I’m already on my way.”
When you pass Colombia heading north to PanamaJuan José walks through the dangerous dense forests of Darien Gap. There you see dead body – other refugees and migrants, he claimed, died “trying to get out of that damned forest”.
Then, upon arriving in Mexico, he learned the bad news: Venezuelans, formerly exempt from Title 42, now also face deportation, as part of the deal. between Mexico and the Biden administration.
Permission Agreement a limited number of Venezuelans apply for asylum in the United States, but only if they can afford their passports and flights and have a sponsor in the United States to help financially support them. Those arriving at the border will have to stay in Mexico.
“I went crazy because [of] all the journey that I went through was nothing,” he said. “But I kept going until I reached Ciudad Juárez,” a Mexican city across the border from El Paso.
Now, Juan José is weighing his options. If Title 42 ends, he could be bound to New York City. If the policy continues, through Supreme Court action or as part of a congressional settlement, the 19-year-old will settle in Mexico.
Thousands of people share Juan José’s predicament. The Policy may expire has given hope to asylum seekers heading to the United States. However, those hopes are tinged with uncertainty due to ongoing legal and political struggle on the fate of Title 42.
Experts like Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, attorney and policy director for the American Council on Immigration, warn that Title 42 exacerbates existing confusion around US immigration policies.
“Title 42 is a distraction,” says Reichlin-Melnick. The policy is “basically a blunt instrument for a problem that needs complex solutions”.
Politicians in Texas disagree. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Governor Greg Abbott want Title 42 to continue, and their state to be part of Ongoing legal effort led by Republican Party to maintain policy in place, lest an increase in border crossings might overwhelm government resources.
A federal appeals court on Friday refused to block the end of Title 42, opening the door for a Supreme Court intervention decision on Monday. Reichlin-Melnick has called the Supreme Court the most likely route to long-term continuation of Title 42.
Other politicians, such as John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, and Joe Manchin, Republican of West Virginia, have previously petitioned US President Joe Biden to seek an extension of Title 42 beyond its expiration. Scheduled.
In a letter to the president, the two senators, along with U.S. Representatives Henry Cuellar and Tony Gonzales, both Texans, pushed for an extension, declaring the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) DHS) does not have “enough support or resources” to manage Title 42.
DHS has issued an outline of the plans following Title 42 (PDF), though details are scant. It focuses mainly on revising the asylum system, as well as proposing to send more resources such as medical supplies to the border.
“The only real solution,” the document states, “is for Congress to fix our broken and outdated immigration system.”
The Biden administrationmeanwhile, signaled it wants Title 42 to expirealthough the White House is reportedly considering a policy to cut the number of refugees and migrants eligible for asylum from countries like Venezuela, Haiti, Nicaragua and Cuba.
Such a policy would be an extension of the agreement restricting asylum seekers in Venezuela. It has been criticized for being similar to a plan put forward by former presidential adviser Stephen Milleran immigration hardliner who worked for the Trump administration.
In a statement released on December 13, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas sought to downplay any changes to US border policy should Title 42 expire.
“Once the Title 42 order ceases to be in effect, DHS will process individuals encountered at the border without valid travel documents using its long-standing Title 8 authorities. ,” Mayorkas said.
“Let me be clear,” he continued. “With or without Title 42, those who cannot establish a legal basis to remain in the United States will be removed.”
Under Title 42, some asylum seekers were sent back to their home countries, but most were simply sent back to Mexico, making it easier for them to try to cross the border again. According to U.S. Border Patrol data, repeat arrests increased about 20% after the introduction of Title 42.
But if the policy does indeed expire, experts like Reichlin-Melnick predict those who try to cross the border more than once will face harsher penalties, including the possibility of federal deportation, a a more formal eviction process carries significant legal risk. For example, people who try to come back after being formally deported can be arrested and jailed.
“Definitely more people will be released [into the United States] in the short term,” Reichlin-Melnick said of Title 42’s expiration. “The real question is about the long term. There will be more people charged with illegal entry, more deportations and ultimately fewer people crossing the border.”
He likens Title 42 to “putting a bandage on a festering wound.”
Robert Painter, the legal director of refugee rights group American Gateways, said the US immigration system is ill-equipped to handle modern migrants like climate change, domestic violence and non-state actors such as gangs and cartels.
He is currently preparing to litigate an asylum case involving a woman from Honduras who fled to the US after experiencing domestic violence. Women like her can apply for asylum because there is no hope of protection or legal recourse in their native country.
“It took hours and hours to prepare testimony and 350 pages of evidence, but I still can’t say this [case] has a good chance of succeeding,” Painter said.
Meanwhile, tensions have grown between his organization and Texas politicians like Paxton, who are now investigating American Gateways and other NGOs for knowingly using money from the Texas Bar Foundation to “support border invasion”.
Border cities have already begun to see an increase in the number of crossings, with El Paso recording a jump starting in late August. Supporters and city officials told Al Jazeera that the shelters were overcrowded.
Laura Cruz, spokeswoman for El Paso, said: “Everything is extremely flexible, so to tell you exactly what our plans are, it gets a little complicated because it’s so flexible.
Cruz noted that the city recently spent $9 million to provide housing, care, and resettlement for refugees and migrants from Texas to destinations like Chicago and New York City, despite The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) can reimburse the city for most or all of that money.
Back on the banks of the Rio Grande, just outside El Paso, Juan José dreams of setting foot in New York City. So did other asylum seekers nearby. Josefina, 21, from Venezuela, hopes to make enough money there to buy better heart medicine for her father. Brothers Brian, 8, and Miguel, 11, also plan a big city life.
While their mother went to get water, the two brothers sold cigarettes to people waiting in line.
“They say we Venezuelans are the worst,” Miguel said. “That’s why we’re not allowed into the US now – only people from other countries. We passed over a week ago, but were immediately sent back to Mexico.”
Now, like Juan José, they wait.
“We want to go to New York or Miami,” Miguel continued. “They say it’s beautiful, but I don’t know. Is it too far?”