Where There's a Will


El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez in Chihuahua, Mexico, are two cities divided by the Rio Grande River (which isn't very "grande" at this point), the border between the two countries.

Migrants making their way north to seek asylum in the U.S. are increasingly blocked by the Mexican government—working in cooperation with the U.S. government—from reaching the border region. Those who manage to evade those blockages and reach Cuidad Juárez must figure out what to do next.

They have three options: they can use the CBP One smartphone app to schedule an appointment at a port of entry to make their asylum case; they can cross the border without authorization and then present themselves to a Border Patrol agent and request asylum; or they can cross the border and then disappear, living and working illegally as an undocumented person.

The CBP One app is the official way to gain an asylum appointment. However, it seems designed to limit the number of asylum seekers seen daily. Some migrants in Juárez have been waiting for months to get an appointment—using the app each morning to try and secure one of the few available appointments that day. The result is that most give up and use the second option: cross the river and request asylum from a border patrol agent. Almost all the migrants we see at the shelter where I work have been forced to take this option. It's also not easy.

The governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, has directed the installation of cortina wire in the Rio Grande. He has also stationed Texas State Police between the river and the border patrol agents. Their job is to "encourage" the migrants to return to Mexico.

One father told me that they threw a blanket over the cortina wire to use it to lift the wire so that their children could pass under it. He told me another family and five single men crossed with his. He said the state police yelled at the families but ultimately let them pass. He said that the state police used clubs to drive the five men back across the border.

One would think that they avoided beating the families because the videos of the police beating children go viral. But, one woman from El Salvador arrived at our shelter with four small children. Her arm was in a brace, and she was walking gingerly—clearly in pain. I asked her what happened. (It's not uncommon to encounter people who've fallen on La Bestia—the train many migrants use to make their way up through Mexico—or who tried unsuccessfully to climb the wall.)

She said that the state police beat her with clubs, yelling, "Go back to your own country!" She and her children managed to get around them and request asylum from the border patrol agents waiting at the wall.

In January, a woman and her two children drowned in the Rio Grande after the state police blocked the border patrol from saving them.

These people are fleeing from oppression and misery. They have spent months or even years traveling to the U.S. border. In many cases, they had to cross the Darian Gap on foot. These travails at the border are just another obstacle to conquer. It's important to remember: as bad as what they counter gets, it's still better than the conditions in their home country.

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