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“Where are all the migrants?” we asked as we toured Juárez, Anapra, El Paso and Sunland Park on May 10 and 11.
Our first stop was the Sacred Heart Church on Oregon Street in El Paso where there were far fewer people on the streets than when I had last visited on April 28.
Then we crossed into Juárez to the site of the deadly fire that killed 40 migrants on March 27 and spoke to a 16-year-old girl named Ana who had made the arduous journey from Venezuela with her father and her younger sister, Fatima, age 12. They left Venezuela eight months ago, crossed the very dangerous Darien Gap, traveled with a small group instead of hiring a “coyote” because that would have been too expensive. They had spent two months in the Mexican government’s Kiki Romero shelter in Juárez, a former gymnasium converted to shelter up to 200 people but said it was so horrible that they decided to live on the street in a tent. Their hope is for an asylum hearing soon and they certainly deserve it.
We then took food and clothing to the nearby Respettrans shelter. They were housing roughly 200 migrants and there had been no additional influx due to Title 42.
We drove along both the U.S. and the Mexican sides of the border wall to the west in the Sunland Park-Anapra area and eastward to the Zaragoza bridge, spotted a few migrants on the Mexican side but no build up.
On Thursday, May 11, we took food, clothing and medical supplies to Sacred Heart but there were only about 45 migrants there, far fewer than two weeks earlier.
Later we returned to Juárez and spent several hours driving around in the city center but saw nothing out of the ordinary.
In short, ending Title 42 didn’t cause any of the chaos that was predicted.
Some conclusions and recommendations.
We’ll continue to have a need for migrant shelters and it’s time, therefore, to set standards, support the non-profits like Respettrans that are humane and cost effective, force improvements in shelters like the Kiki Romero. Thus, I continue to recommend the creation of a U.S.-Mexico Shelter Task Force that would include the involvement of those who run the non-profits.
Since September 2022, I’ve had extensive contact with hundreds of Venezuelan migrants often in very harsh circumstances as when they were living in terrible conditions on the river bank in Juárez across from El Paso. They have always displayed great optimism and courtesy and many would be assets to our economy if we had an expanded guest worker program that could work for them. Now there are about 4 million unfilled jobs in the US for which we have no workers.
Conditions in countries like Venezuela aren’t going to suddenly improve so we can’t just focus on migration when there’s an event like Title 42 and then forget about it.
In addition, the Border Patrol (BP)deserves support for its extraordinarily difficult work. The BP is understaffed, a problem that Congress could easily resolve just as it could resolve the shortage of judges for the 2 million pending asylum cases.
Instead of constantly complaining that the system is broken and that we need comprehensive reform, why couldn’t Congress unite with these three small steps – an expanded guest worker program that would benefit both migrants and U.S. employers, plus funding for the Border Patrol and for judges who would work on the asylum caseload? Maybe a few small successes would lead to larger reforms.
Last, we can’t forget that this is an issue of humanity, not just political gain. Let’s not walk away from these issues just because Title 42’s ending wasn’t as dramatic as expected.
Morgan Smith has been reporting on border issues for the last decade and can be reached at Morganfirstname.lastname@example.org.