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Diverse Nationalities, Professions Among Migrants at US Mexico Border

Diversity of Nationalities, Professions Among Migrants at US Mexico Border
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Neris Arruaz held her 2-year-old in one arm and a small red bag on the other with a few diapers inside. She has come to the social service organization Ayudándoles A Triunfar, in the border city of Matamoros, Mexico, to ask for a few more.

Arruaz, her husband and two small children are from Cuba. They arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border in April and are not sure when they will be able to present themselves at a port of entry. In Cuba, she was an accountant and her husband was a veterinarian.

As Cubans, Arruaz and her family are part of one of the demographics with the highest increases in encounters along the Southern border, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

In the past, most of the migrants entering the U.S. or apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border were coming from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.

In the last few months, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials have noticed a change. Now the majority are fleeing Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Haiti. CBP data shows that some are even coming from as far away as China and Afghanistan. On Friday, the Department of Homeland Security reported removing migrants from more than 30 countries.

Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America, a nonprofit human rights group, shared his insight on Twitter about that CBP migrant data. He said there were no "giant shifts" among the number of migrants apprehended between ports of entry from February to April. Except for Venezuela where 1,451 migrants were encountered in February, 3,313 in March, and 29,656 in April.

"... [Venezuelan] citizens seemed undeterred by possible Title 42 expulsion into Mexico. Or were misinformed. Or both," he wrote.

Isacson also noted "a bit more diversity of countries" at the ports of entry.

U.S. officials say between February and April, the U.S. Border Patrol has also encountered migrants from Brazil, Colombia, India, Romania, Russia, and Turkey.

Carlos Navarro, a pastor at the Baptist Church of West Brownsville, Texas, told VOA that it is not just a trend in nationalities, there are different social backgrounds at the border.

"Not only all kinds of nationalities, but different backgrounds, social backgrounds, people with degrees, engineers, medical doctors, lawyers, architects," he said.

Navarro and the people in his church run a program to welcome and serve migrants seeking asylum.

"I mean, you can tell that for them to leave their country, being professionals, is because something is not good for them," he said.

Title 42 no more

The public health measure known as Title 42, put in place at the border during the pandemic, officially ended May 11. It allowed border officers to quickly expel some migrants back to Mexico or their home countries.

Now, migrants at the border are being processed under Title 8, the U.S. law covering immigration. It allows migrants to seek asylum or other relief in the United States if they fear persecution at home.

"This is a long-standing immigration enforcement authority that multiple administrations, Republican and Democratic alike, have used to process individuals," U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters in late April. "It carries stiff consequences for irregular migration, including at least a five-year ban on reentry and potential criminal prosecution for repeated attempts to cross unlawfully."

Under the law, U.S. immigration officials have sent thousands of people who have crossed into the U.S. without authorization back to Mexico or their home country.

Many at the border say they want to follow the rules but that it is very difficult to come to the United States.

A Chinese migrant, who didn't want to give his name, told VOA he was a small-business owner in China. He fled the economic aftershocks of China's COVID-19 lockdowns to try his luck at America's southern border.

"You have to pay wages to others, and you also have to take care of yourself. There's a lot of pressure now. So, I want[ed] to come here through formal procedures. But on the one hand, the U.S. does not allow us to come, and on the other, China does not allow us to go. We are forced to do it this way; we have no other means," he said.

Farah, a Haitian migrant who also did not want to share her real name, said her family of five has been waiting for a chance to cross into the U.S. for the past three months.

"Be patient with us. We've come from really far," she said. "And things are going really wrong in our country. They're killing innocent people. So we're unable to go back to our country."

Farah, her husband and children were staying at a shelter in the Mexican border municipality of Reynosa. The family is trying to get an appointment using the CBPOne app, a mobile app launched by U.S. Customs and Border Protection in October 2020, in order to present themselves at a port of entry and comply with the latest asylum restrictions.

Migrants crossing between ports of entry are being quickly removed under Title 8 and are ineligible for asylum unless they can prove they asked for asylum in another country on their way to the United States.

Those who did not ask for protection in a previous country but used CBPOne for an appointment will not be subjected to this ban.

According to federal court documents, 22,284 out of 29,287 migrants who arrived at ports of entry from February to April, had a CBPOne app appointment. The top 3 nationalities with CBPOne appointments were Haiti, Mexico, and Venezuela.

Arruaz and her family have yet to get an appointment, and the CBPOne app on her phone now shows a recurring "system error" message.

Along the U.S.-Mexico border, migrants have been applying daily for the 1,000 slots available on the app. Migrants and immigration advocates say it is plagued by glitches.

"The story is always the same: there is no appointment available. … It's always the same and we're desperate," she said. "We don't know what to do."