YUMA, Ariz. (AP) — Migrants who entered the United States illegally under moonlit skies and waist-deep cold water on Friday have been devastated to learn they could be deported back to Mexico under extended limits to the asylum application.
About 200 migrants who walked in the dark for about an hour to surrender to Border Patrol agents in Yuma, Ariz., included many Cubans – who were stunned to learn that an asylum ban that was incumbent previously largely to other nationalities now applies equally to them. Several were political dissidents of the Cuban government who were driven to leave by longstanding fears of incarceration and persecution and a new sense of economic desperation.
President Joe Biden announced Thursday that Cubans, Nicaraguans, Haitians and Venezuelans will be deported to Mexico if they enter the United States illegally, effective immediately. At the same time, it offered humanitarian parole to up to 30,000 people per month from these four countries if they applied online, paid for their airfare and found a financial sponsor.
Mario Enrique Perez, 32, said he would rather be incarcerated in the United States than be sent back to Mexico, where, he said, he and his wife suffered numerous slights and mistreatment in during a two-month trip across the country. They frequently had to get off buses to avoid jolts at government checkpoints, which slowed their pace.
The vast majority of Cubans reach the United States by flying to Nicaragua as tourists and heading to the US border with Mexico. Perez said they exchange information “like ants” about the safest and easiest routes, which is why he chose Yuma.
Nelliy Jimenez, 50, said she rode on horseback on her three-month trip through Mexico to avoid jerks at government checkpoints. Her son, whom she described as an active dissident, fled to Spain years ago. She resisted Cuba despite her ties to her son – even jailed during protests in July 2021 – but resisted until economic desperation forced her to sell her convenience store in the city of Cienfuegos to finance her trip to the States. -United.
She hopes to settle with relatives in Nebraska.
“I didn’t see that coming,” Jimenez said of the new asylum boundaries.
Niurka Avila, 53, said the Cuban government was watching her and her husband, who are known dissidents. She spoke with disgust of Cuban officials, saying she couldn’t bring herself to wear the traditional Guayabera dress because they do. They “made it their own,” she says.
Avila, a nurse in Cuba, said Mexico was not an attractive option and she and her husband hoped to join their family in Florida.
“(Mexico) is a violent place and our family is here,” she said.
The new rules build on an existing effort to stop Venezuelans trying to enter the United States, which began in October and has seen a dramatic drop in the number of Venezuelans traveling to the southern border. Together, they represent a major change to immigration rules that will stand even if the Supreme Court ends a Trump-era public health law that allows US authorities to refuse asylum seekers.
“Don’t show up, don’t just show up at the border,” Biden said in announcing the changes, while acknowledging the hardships that lead many families to make the dangerous journey north.
“Stay where you are and apply legally from there,” he advised.
Biden made the announcement just days before a scheduled visit to El Paso, Texas on Sunday for his first trip to the southern border as president. From there, he will travel to Mexico City to meet with North American leaders on Monday and Tuesday.
At the US-Mexico border, migrants have been denied the ability to seek asylum 2.5 million times since March 2020 under Title 42 restrictions, introduced as an emergency health measure by former President Donald Trump to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But there have always been criticisms that the restrictions were used as a pretext by the Republican to seal the border.
Biden has decided to end the Title 42 restrictions, and Republicans have sued to keep them. The US Supreme Court left the rules in place for the time being. White House officials say they still believe the restrictions should end, but maintain they can continue to refuse migrants under immigration law.
On Friday, spokesman Boris Cheshirkov of UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, welcomed the expansion of safe and regular pathways that will now be available for an “unprecedented number” of people trying to enter states. United, but said the agency also wanted more details. on how the new process will be implemented.
“These are quite large and multifaceted announcements,” he told reporters in Geneva during a regular UN briefing. “We are analyzing what has been announced and above all the impact these measures may have – including on the situation and the thousands of people who are already on the move.”
Cheshirkov reiterated the UN agency’s long-standing concerns over the use of Title 42 due to the risk that many people will be returned to Mexico “without regard to the dangers they have fled and the risks and hardships with which many of them could then be confronted. ”
“What we are reiterating is that this does not meet the standards of refugee law,” he added. “Seeking asylum is a fundamental human right.”
Associated Press writers Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed to this report; Colleen Long, Zeke Miller and Rebecca Santana in Washington; and Gisela Salomon in Miami.
Elliot Spagat, Associated Press