On US-Mexico bridge, two sides of Biden border crackdown

Migrants, seek asylum in the United States, in El Paso

By Andrew Hay and Jose Luis Gonzalez

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico (Reuters) - A group of migrants walked into Mexico on Saturday against pedestrian traffic on the international bridge between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez minutes after being deported from the United States under the Biden administration's new asylum ban.

The mainly twenty-something Venezuelan men were ejected under the June 5 proclamation fast-tracking deportations of most people crossing the border illegally.

In a scene that showed both the pitfalls and promises of President Joe Biden's new approach, the deportees who crossed the border only days earlier in deadly triple-digit heat, passed another group of migrants with wheelie suitcases standing in a line.

These migrants were awaiting interviews through CBP One, a mobile phone app promoted by the administration that provides a way to lawfully approach the port of entry.

Asked if he would try to cross again, a deportee with a silver cross necklace, who only gave his first name, Josuan, said: "Of course." Others nearby nodded.

All faced at least a five-year ban on entering the United States and would have to evade capture on any future crossing.


U.S. President Joe Biden, a Democrat, has toughened his stance on border security after immigration emerged as a top issue ahead of the Nov. 5 elections where he faces his predecessor, former Republican President Donald Trump, who promises a wide-ranging immigration crackdown if reelected.

Biden on Tuesday announced a legalization program for immigrants in the country illegally who are married to U.S. citizens. The measure was meant to back a campaign message that he differs from Trump in his support for a more humane immigration system.

For now, Biden's restrictive asylum policy, combined with tougher immigration enforcement by Mexico, appears to be lowering crossings.

Apprehensions fell just below 2500 on Sunday, the lowest daily figure since February 2021, according to a senior U.S. Customs and Border Protection official who requested anonymity in order to discuss preliminary figures.

Detentions outpaced the 1,450 CBP One appointments U.S. officials said were available daily at eight border crossings.

In past years, repeat crossings by deported migrants helped swell apprehensions to record levels.

At the Buen Samaritano migrant shelter in Ciudad Juarez, director Juan Fierro Garcia has seen a nearly 40% increase in people seeking a place to stay since Biden's order, which mirrors a Trump-era asylum ban.

"The border is practically closed, so the only legal way in is through CBP One," said Fierro Garcia, who does not accept deportees.

Honduran Fidelina Bardales, 46, said she and her two daughters, ages 15 and 5, had been waiting at Buen Samaritano a month and a half for a CBP One appointment. The app functions once migrants reach central Mexico.

"With Biden's rule, it's the only option I have," said Bardales, adding that she began a nine-month journey to the border to claim asylum after her son was shot dead for being gay and his killers threatened to "disappear" her and her daughter to stop them informing authorities.


On the U.S. side of the bridge, Venezuelan Yenny Cisneros, 36, on Friday sat in the shade of a storefront on El Paso Street having made it through her CBP One interview. A manicurist, she had a notice to appear before an immigration judge and expected to get a work permit in about two weeks to allow her to find a job in Houston.

"I thank God and this country," said Cisneros, waiting nervously for her 20-year-old daughter to appear from the beige border control building.

The day before, June 13, she and her two daughters rested in an air-conditioned Juarez hotel room ahead of their interviews.

The same day, Mexican authorities recovered the body of a female migrant believed to be Adriana Castellanos, 23, of El Salvador, who died from dehydration in desert near the city of 1.6 million people.

Activist Alan Lizarraga said criminalization and detention of asylum seekers was forcing them to attempt desert crossings.

"Migrants are being killed by the policies of not only the United States but Mexico," said Lizarraga of the El Paso-based Border Network for Human Rights.

About one migrant a day has died from the heat in the last week in the El Paso sector where deaths have nearly doubled so far this fiscal year as Border Patrol rescues nearly tripled, according to a U.S. border officials.

Speaking in a mountainous area west of El Paso where most migrants cross, U.S. Border Patrol agent Orlando Marrero Rubio said the rise in deaths was due to an earlier than usual start to hot weather and inhumane treatment of migrants by criminal groups that control human trafficking.


To the northeast of the city, intakes were significantly down at a sprawling migrant processing center where nearly all people apprehended were facing an "expedited removal" process.

Prior to Biden's new restrictions on asylum, most migrants who crossed the border were allowed into the United States after interviews in which an official would ask if they feared returning to their country or being deported.

"They're not manifesting fear," said a border official, who requested anonymity to be able to discuss changes in processing operations, while commenting on whether migrants were requesting interviews to be considered for asylum.

Alejandro Mayorkas, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, told reporters many migrants were traveling for economic or other reasons rather than fear of persecution.

He expected the new rules to have increasing impact.

Back at the Buen Samaritano shelter in Ciudad Juarez, Venezuelan Alejandro Wilchez, 24, said his plans had changed after Texas National Guard soldiers fired pepper balls at his family last week as they tried to reach the border fence just east of downtown El Paso.

Like Republican leaders elsewhere, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has used troops to prevent migrants from crossing the border.

Wilchez's one-and-a-half month old daughter bled from the nose and mouth after inhaling pepper gas and his wife was badly cut on razor wire as they tried to make it onto U.S. soil and claim asylum. Abbott's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Now the family is awaiting a CBP One appointment.

"I don't want my daughter to die crossing," said Wilchez, as he and his family rested inside during the afternoon heat, and his baby still suffering from a fever she developed after being hospitalized for inhaling pepper gas.

(Reporting By Andrew Hay and Jose Luis Gonzalez; editing by Donna Bryson, Mica Rosenberg and Aurora Ellis)