Mexico’s Ciudad Juárez Hot Spot in Latest Migration Wave

CIUDAD JUÁREZ, Mexico—Fearing a humanitarian catastrophe, authorities in this Mexican city on the border of El Paso, Texas have opened two bunkers to provide food, hot showers, and medical aid to more than 1,000 immigrants, most of them Nicaraguan. in a group last week

Many had children in tow and temperatures were hovering around freezing. They took a police escort to the bunker after some said they were being held for ransom by criminal gangs on their way north.

But within hours, the migrants left the warm shelters and marched en masse to the Rio Grande, where they crossed. Their plan, they said: surrender to the US authorities and seek asylum.

“None of the immigrants wanted to stay in the relatively safe environment of the shelters,” said Enrique Valenzuela, head of the Chihuahua state immigration department. “They said, ‘Thanks, no thanks’.”

The group’s foray into Texas was part of an influx of immigrants crossing the border around El Paso, where a quarter of them have attempted illegal border crossing in recent months, according to US Customs and Border Protection data. According to immigrants, government officials and immigration protection groups, immigrants are rushing to cross, anticipating a change in US immigration policy.

An immigrant sleeping next to a Greyhound bus stop in downtown El Paso, Texas.

A U.S. federal judge recently ordered the Biden administration to stop deporting immigrants under Title 42, a healthcare law first used by the Trump administration during the pandemic, which calls for the immediate removal of immigrants crossing the border.

The measure applied to immigrants from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, but not Nicaragua or Cuba. It began to be applied to Venezuelans in October.

On Monday, U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts temporarily extends the policy, while the Supreme Court is considering an urgent request from Republic-led states to keep Title 42 in place.

Thousands of immigrants, including large groups from Nicaragua, have arrived in Ciudad Juárez in recent days as rumors spread on social media that US officials are preparing to take tougher measures to deter illegal crossings.

Near a Greyhound bus stop in downtown El Paso, immigrants huddled together under blankets sleep in the freezing cold.

Immigrants, some of whom are young children, sleep on the streets of El Paso.

US officials are considering expanding a program for Venezuelan immigrants seeking asylum to include Nicaraguans, Cubans and Haitians. This means that Nicaraguans can no longer apply for asylum when crossing the border illegally. Washington is also considering a measure to subject immigrants who cross the border illegally to speedy deportation if they fail to pass a tougher asylum screening.

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US authorities have warned that the end of epidemic-era Title 42 could lead to a significant increase in border crossings, at least initially. On Saturday, the city of El Paso declared a state of emergency. More than 36,000 migrants have been detained in El Paso since December 1, and nearly 20,000 have been released.

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard met with US officials in Washington, D.C. last week to discuss bilateral issues, but declined to comment on the liquidation of the pandemic-era policy.

Over the past week, more migrants have continued to arrive in the narrow area between the riverbank and the border fence. Immigrants wrapped in blankets lined up for about half a mile waiting to be processed by CBP officials.

WSJ’s Alicia A. Caldwell reports from Ciudad Juarez. Photo: Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters

“We lit bonfires at night and even burned the few clothes we had left to keep warm. “A lot of people passed out from hypothermia,” said Johana Salinas, an immigrant from Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, who attended the line with eight family members last week.

Ms. Salinas, who is among the 30 or so Nicaraguans waiting on a corner a few yards from the bus station in El Paso, said groups of 50, mostly wrapped in white blankets, are beginning to be allowed into the United States. With the American Red Cross logo.

Along the line along the border fence, some residents and other immigrants sold them coffee and pizza slices from a nearby Little Caesars. CBP officers have slowly finished processing the immigrants and the queue has thinned out.

Pastor Román Domínguez, who runs an immigrant shelter in Ciudad Juárez.

But Mexican authorities and employees of international organizations are preparing for further arrivals.

Volunteers and aid workers say the shelters are already at full capacity, full of thousands of stranded migrants with nowhere to go, most of them Venezuelans.

“There is a risk of chaos, in part because neither the municipality, nor the state, nor the Mexican federal government have the tools to deal with this kind of situation. But we will face what we have, prepare for the worst and hope for the best.” .

A migrant who cooks for her children at the Migrant Oasis shelter in Mexico.

Immigrant children paint Christmas trees at a shelter in Ciudad Juárez.

Nicaraguan immigrants say they fear things might change for them. Currently, Nicaraguans cannot be deported because President Daniel Ortega’s government refuses to take them back as the political pressures of his authoritarian regime intensify.

“There is no good timing to enter the US. The truth is, our government is pressing us so hard that you have no choice but to go empty-handed and leave your family behind,” said Víctor Vanegas, a pork salesman from León, Nicaragua’s second largest city.

Mr. Vanegas said he waited in line for 29 hours along El Paso’s border fence before being allowed into the US last week. Mr Vanegas added that prior to that, hundreds of migrants were held for hours by a criminal gang and they were released after paying a ransom. The incident was confirmed by Mexican authorities.

“I think the United States will soon shut down the stream for everyone,” said Ricardo Castillo, a former Venezuelan police detective who quit his job and left the country earlier this year. Knowing that U.S. officials would not let Venezuelans in, he followed the long queue of migrants on the Mexican shore of the river.

“I come here every day to gain strength,” he said. “When Title 42 expires, God’s will no matter what happens.”

Some immigrants to the US have relied on white blankets with the American Red Cross logo for warmth in El Paso.

Write to Santiago Pérez at santiago.perez@wsj.com

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