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Migrants are rattled and unsure as deportations begin under new rule halting asylum

Migrants are rattled and unsure as deportations begin under new rule halting asylum
1 week 3 days 8 hours ago Thursday, June 06 2024 Jun 6, 2024 June 06, 2024 3:24 PM June 06, 2024 in News - Immigration / Borderwall
Source: APnews.com
A migrant woman from Mexico talks with a Border Patrol agent before being transported in a van to be processed for asylum, Wednesday, June 5, 2024, near Dulzura, Calif. President Joe Biden on Tuesday unveiled plans to enact immediate significant restrictions on migrants seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border as the White House tries to neutralize immigration as a political liability ahead of the November elections. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

By VALERIE GONZALEZ and ELLIOT SPAGAT Associated Press

DULZURA, Calif. (AP) — A sense of uncertainty prevails among migrants after President Joe Biden invoked powers to suspend asylum for people who cross the border illegally. Homeland Security Department officials say the first deportations occurred Wednesday under the rule, which is triggered when border arrests top 2,500 a day. A Mexican woman who crossed the border near San Diego hoped the rule was still being finalized and that she wasn't too late. A Colombian man released just before the measure took effect says he doesn't know whether to believe Border Patrol agents who told him those who came after him will be deported.

DULZURA, Calif. (AP) — Abigail Castillo was about to cross the U.S. border illegally when she heard President Joe Biden was halting asylum. She continued anyway, walking hours through the mountains east of San Diego with her toddler son, hoping it wasn't too late.

"I heard that they were going to do it or were about to do it," Castillo, 35, said Wednesday as she and her son were escorted to a Border Patrol van with about two dozen others from Brazil, Ecuador and her village in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, which she said she left because it was gripped by violence.

They had missed the deadline, and were now subject to the new deportation rule.

Her sense of uncertainty prevailed among many migrants after Biden invoked presidential powers to stop asylum processing when arrests for illegal crossings top 2,500 in a day. The measure took effect at 12:01 a.m. EDT on Wednesday because that threshold was met.

Two senior Homeland Security Department officials confirmed the first deportations under the new rule took place Wednesday, though they did not say how many were deported. The officials briefed reporters on condition their names not be used in keeping with regulations.

Sergio Franco, who clutched his baby girl after a nearly two-month journey from Ecuador with his family, walking through the perilous Darien jungle on the border between Colombia and Panama, said he was confident that he would prevail in his plea to find a safe haven in the United States.

"If we have evidence, there shouldn't be a problem," he said as he got into the van with Castillo and the others.

As the group was driven away, several migrants from India walked up to the same dusty area near a gun shop in the town of Dulzura, one of several that have popped up over the last year in the remote rural outskirts of San Diego for migrants to surrender to Border Patrol agents. There was no water or restrooms and little shade.

Several Guatemalan women arrived later. Among them was Arelis Alonzo Lopez, who said she was nearly five months pregnant and had walked for two nights. A Border Patrol agent asked how she felt.

"I can't take any more," she answered.

Asylum remains suspended until average daily arrests fall below 1,500 for a week straight. The last month that crossings were that low for that long was in July 2020, during the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Migrants who express fear for their safety if they are deported will be screened by U.S. asylum officers but under a higher standard than what's currently in place. If they pass, they can remain to pursue other forms of humanitarian protection, including those laid out in the U.N. Convention Against Torture.

There are serious questions about whether the new measure can stop large-scale migrant entries. Mexico has agreed to take back migrants who are not Mexican, but only limited numbers and nationalities. And the Biden administration doesn't have the money and diplomatic support it needs to deport migrants long distances, including to Ecuador and India.

In Matamoros, Mexico, across the border from Brownsville, Texas, Esmeralda Castro of El Salvador worried the asylum halt will drive more people to compete for the 1,450 slots awarded daily to enter legally through U.S. Customs and Border Protection's heavily oversubscribed online app, known as CBP One. Castro, 40, said she has tried for nine months for an appointment using the app.

"Imagine what's going to happen with what they've done. The system is going to collapse again," said Castro, speaking at a migrant camp near the banks of the Rio Grande where she has been living with about 10 others. The app has become so overwhelmed at times that users got error messages and experienced other technical failures.

Juan Daniel Medina of the Dominican Republic said he was determined to stick with CBP One, even after eight months of fruitless attempts to get an appointment.

"It's the correct way because that way you do everything legally. They won't have to jump the river and risk facing criminal charges," the 30-year-old Medina said.

Two hours before the sun set Tuesday in San Diego, four busloads of migrants were dropped off by Border Patrol agents at a transit center, many of them to seek asylum in one of 68 immigration courts across the country. Asylum-seekers can generally work while their claims slowly wind through overwhelmed immigration courts.

Jesus Gomez of Medellin, Colombia, said Border Patrol agents told him he was one of the last people to be released to seek asylum and that he should tell friends and family back home that they will be deported if they attempt to enter illegally. He said he didn't know if it was true.

"It's a very difficult thing to navigate," Gomez, 49, said as he waited for his wife to be released by the Border Patrol before they fly to Boston, where their daughter lives.

___

Gonzalez reported from Matamoros, Mexico.

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