JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) – His daughter turns 3 years old next week and Jeilfred can’t hold back the tears. It took the native of Venezuela more than two months to make the 3,000-mile trek to Juarez only to find the U.S. border closed to asylum-seekers from that South American country who cross between ports of entry.
“I feel a knot in my throat. I haven’t seen my daughters in nearly three months, or my wife. My little girl’s birthday is on December 6 and I’m still here. I cannot even send them money for a sandwich,” he said, his voice breaking.
Jeilfred and his two travel companions, Alejandro and Luis, spent Monday night sleeping on a sidewalk in Juarez after Mexican officials razed a tent camp along the Rio Grande that was housing hundreds of Venezuelans and other foreign nationals.
Local authorities said the camp was too close to the river and someone could drown. They said migrants were lighting fires next to the tents and that could spark a deadly blaze. They said some children were coming down with respiratory illnesses and needed to be sleeping indoors.
The city offered the migrants free rides to government shelters where they can sleep on a bed, under a roof and be guaranteed at least a few days’ meals. Four out of five camp dwellers refused and now find themselves wandering the streets of Juarez by day, begging for food and money, and sleeping wherever they can.
Such refusal baffles Mexican officials. But when Jeilfred and his companions explain why they left Venezuela, their mistrust of anyone with a government badge comes into focus.
“I practically had to flee Venezuela, like most of my countrymen,” Jeilfred said. “I worked in Colombia, came back to buy a car, a good car, and then the government people questioned me about what I was doing in Colombia. All they wanted was to take my car because that is all you see in Venezuela today: extortion.”
Jeilfred said the officials working for one of President Nicolas Maduro’s security forces impounded his car. It took a low-level government official’s intervention to get it back, but at a price: he had to sell it and spread the proceeds around.
“They take away what little you have. I sold the car for $900. I gave (the middleman) $300, I left my family $100 and with the last $500 I came here,” he said, adding the money only took him as far as Southern Mexico. By the time he got there, after Oct. 12, the Biden administration had announced it would expel Venezuelan asylum-seekers coming across the border on Title 42 grounds.
His companions shared stories of being ostracized for participating in anti-government marches or refusing to join those in support of the Maduro regime. “They say, ‘come join the revolution.’ But that’s not a revolución anymore, it’s a robolución (rob-you-lution),” said Luis.
Their only option is crossing the U.S. to request political asylum, find a job and send money home, they said.
Monday night was the first of many the companions expect to spend on Juarez streets. They heard the U.S. will reopen the borders to Venezuelans on Dec. 21 and plan to wait until then.
It’s true that a U.S. federal judge has given the Biden administration until then to do away with Title 42 expulsions, but the Department of Homeland Security cautions migrants to not misunderstand the implications and to listen only to official information.
“Title 42 will remain in place during the period of the stay, allowing the government to prepare for a transition and to continue to manage the border in a safe, orderly, and humane way,” DHS said in a Nov. 16 statement. “While the stay is in effect, DHS will continue to process individuals in accordance with the CDC’s Title 42 public health order and expel single adults and family units encountered at the Southwest border. People should not listen to the lies by smugglers [….] The border is closed, and we will continue to fully enforce our immigration laws.”
On Tuesday, a KTSM/Border Report photo crew found numerous clusters of other displaced Venezuelans walking in Downtown Juarez. Some piled their belongings under trees or beside fences in neighborhoods within walking distance of the Rio Grande or within eyesight of the United States.
Rosy, a Venezuelan migrant who has not yet exhausted her travel budget, said she’s sorry to see her less-fortunate countrymen suffering far from home.
“I don’t know how many people are staying or sleeping on the streets, but they are many,” she said. “Some of us have the resources to rent a hotel, to buy food. But I think those who cannot afford to do that are more numerous.”
Juarez officials say they will continue to invite to shelters the Venezuelans previously staying in tents. But they won’t force them to go nor will they allow them to set up new camps.
Immigrant advocates in El Paso have decried the forceful removal of the Venezuelans from the tent camp in Juarez but put the blame on the Title 42 order that left them between a rock and a hard place in Mexico.