Junior took his son in one arm, gave his wife the other hand, and crossed a water canal in Ciudad Juárez, one of the most dangerous points on the US-Mexico border. He crossed over on the sly, dreaming of arriving in Philadelphia and starting his life over.
The 43-year-old Brazilian farmer – who requests anonymity for security reasons – believed he managed to get in. He surrendered to the authorities and applied for asylum. It was January 30, 2020. He did not know it, but the day before, the United States had included Brazil in the Stay in Mexico program. Junior was therefore sent back to Juárez to await the resolution of the case on the other side of the border.
The Stay in Mexico program reached 65,000 people as a junior. Created to obstruct the entry of Central Americans and officially called MPP (Protocols for the Protection of Migrants, its acronym in English), it was one of the banners of Donald Trump’s administration.
Joe Biden campaigned by promising to end the deportation of migrants to Mexico, which has been harshly criticized by human rights activists. In February, shortly after his inauguration, his government crippled the MPP. Last week announced the end of the program. In theory, the rule that a person can wait for asylum in the United States, without being deported to the border, is again valid.
Despite the symbolism of announcing the end of the MPP, the way Biden handled the program and the rest of the Mexican border migration crisis – one of his administration’s biggest challenges – disappointed both his Republican rivals and its Democratic allies. .
Republicans say that by ending the MPP, Biden signaled he would be lenient on irregular migrants. This would explain to opponents why so many people tried to cross. In May, 180,000 people were detained at the border, the highest number in 20 years. Of that total, there were 7,372 Brazilians – in the same month of 2020, there were just 39, according to data from U.S. border officials.
Already, some Democrats say Biden is not doing enough to resolve the humanitarian crisis on the Mexican border, thus failing with one of his election platforms. They criticize, for example, the delay in the final closure of the MPP. The process has taken months and is apparently not yet complete.
According to a report from Syracuse University, 8,373 people banned by the MPP were allowed to enter the United States from February to the end of April. However, more than 18,000 were still in Mexico. There is no more recent data to indicate how many have crossed since then, but thousands may be missing.
In this period from February to the end of April, Brazilians had one of the lowest entry rates. Also according to the university, only 74 of them – 13% out of a total of 584 in the MPP – entered the United States. Among Venezuelans, in comparison, they were 854, or 51% of a total of 1,663. Entries were processed in batches, depending on the border point and time of arrival, which may explain the difference.
Staying in Mexico is not just a matter of a little more patience. “People have nowhere to stay. Sometimes they sleep on the streets, in refugee camps, ”explains Paulina Vera, professor of immigration law at George Washington University. Living on the border, while awaiting an American decision, aggravates the trauma of those who had already left their country on the run.
Without money, in a foreign country, migrants were vulnerable to violence. According to the American NGO Human Rights First, there have been at least 1,544 cases of murder, torture or kidnapping of people in Mexico who were in the position of provincial deputy.
Júnior had left Brazil in search of prosperity, he says, something he could not find while raising cattle in Rondônia. The last few months had been meager, between economic and health crises. He also claims to have been the target of political harassment, receiving death threats.
“At the border, we don’t have a lot of information, we don’t know what’s going on,” he says. Junior had arrived thinking he was going to spend a week in Mexico and ended up staying for 14 months. He lived in a shelter run by Mexican pastor Juan Fierro in the border town of Juárez.
Fierro says he supported 75 Brazilians deported to Mexico by the MPP. All of them, he says, have already arrived in the United States. This is the case with Júnior, who crossed over in April. He finally lives in the Philadelphia he dreamed of. Wait for the court to decide to grant him asylum.
“The MPP drove a lot of people to despair because they didn’t know what was going to happen to them,” says the pastor. Many have given up and returned to their countries. Others decided to wait and see if Biden – with a more migrant-friendly election message – would win the race, which he did.
The Biden administration, however, has not removed all of the Trump administration’s anti-migration measures. The so-called Title 42, which allows the United States to deport migrants to Mexico for public health reasons during the Covid-19 pandemic, remains in effect. These are the people who still live in Pastor Fierro’s refuge in Juárez, waiting for an opportunity.
The signs, at the moment, do not seem to bode well. On Monday (7), visiting Guatemala, Vice President Kamala Harris, who deals with migration issues, sent a message to anyone considering entering the country illegally: “Do not come”, a- she said. “The United States will continue to enforce our laws and protect our borders. If he comes, he will be fired.