American dream dashed for migrants sent back to Mexico

Central American migrants arrive in the Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez after their deportation from the US
Central American migrants arrive in the Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez after their deportation from the US Paul Ratje AFP/File
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Ciudad Juarez (Mexico) (AFP)

Dirlan Hernandez dreamed of a warm welcome in the United States thanks to President Joe Biden's immigration reforms, but when he crossed over with his son he was quickly sent back to Mexico.

He is not alone.

While some, such as mothers with small children, have been allowed to stay, more than 300 undocumented migrants have been deported this week to Mexico's border city of Ciudad Juarez.

After two days in detention in McAllen, Texas together with his three-year-old son, Hernandez was told by a US immigration agent that he would be transferred to Miami, the 30-year-old Honduran said.

But hours later Hernandez saw the Mexican flag and realized that he had been misled, bursting into tears in the middle of the border bridge, he told AFP in Ciudad Juarez.

"I didn't think they were going to dump us here," he said.

Undocumented migrants are being expelled under a rule known as Title 42 that was introduced a year ago under then-president Donald Trump to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

As a result, the shelters of Ciudad Juarez are full up.

"My son hasn't had a bath in two days," said Hernandez.

- 'Grey area' -

Many migrants continue to be deceived by human traffickers who tell them that the border is open to everyone, said Marisa Limon of Hope Border Institute, a US non-governmental organization.

Migrant hopes were raised after Biden's administration began to allow in asylum seekers who had been sent back to Mexico while their cases were processed under Trump's Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) policy.

But facing mounting political pressure over a surge in arrivals at the southern border, Biden this week urged migrants not to come.

"Right now everything's a gray area," because while some migrants are being accepted due to the dismantling of the MPP, others are being deported under Title 42, Limon said.

In Brownsville, Texas, opposite Mexico's northeastern city of Matamoros, US border patrols are swiftly deporting undocumented adults crossing over alone.

But unaccompanied minors are helped to connect with family contacts inside the United States, while mothers with small children are released with documents allowing them to move around legally.

- 'Vulnerable population' -

Biden's Republican opponents have accused him of creating a "crisis" at the border with policies causing a sharp increase in undocumented migrants seeking to cross over.

Biden has shrugged off the claims, pointing to similar surges in 2019 and 2020.

In February, the US Customs and Border Protection agency (CBP) arrested about 100,000 people at the southern border -- including nearly 9,500 unaccompanied children -- a 28 percent increase over January.

"It's illegal to deny these people access to asylum," argued Limon.

In Mexico, a government program helps deportees with food, water and counseling, although with all 18 shelters in Ciudad Juarez full up, it can no longer offer them accommodation.

"We see a lot of confusion and sadness, because it is only when they return that they find out that they've been sent back," said program coordinator Enrique Valenzuela.

More migrants continue to arrive at the border, full of hope.

"We're receiving many people from Central America, many families with young children," Valenzuela said

"We're talking about a very vulnerable population," he added.

Deported Guatemalan migrant Leondan Recinos is still in shock that his dreams lie in tatters.

"We feel really, really, really bad about the contempt they've had for us. We have no words to respond to this," he said.