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The border patrol holds migrant families in a pen under an El Paso bridge



The darkness had fallen, but only a few were sleeping in this close detention camp outdoors.

Most of the migrants cowering in the cold desert air had only thin, insulated plastic blankets to protect them from the wind. Rows of families, including small children and babies, lay directly on the dirt floor. Some lived four days as exposed to the elements under an El Paso bridge.

The hurriedly erected stick, US immigration officials say, is an extreme but necessary response to a recent rise in Central American families. In recent months, they have entered the country illegally and applied for asylum.

At a press conference in El Paso, US Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said that the total number of detained migrants has increased overall. The US border has not been seen in the last decade, with its western end Texas has experienced a particularly strong increase. His agency, McAleenan said, has reached a "break point" and has no room to handle asylum seekers.

The numerous families trembling every night under the bridge in El Paso point to a seismic shift among migrants who have come to the US in recent years ̵

1; as well as the failure of US policy to adapt to these changes ,

A decade ago, the vast majority of men arrested at the border were single men caught trying to sneak into the US But in recent weeks, nearly two-thirds of families detained by US agents have been families Civil servants and asked for asylum.

A migrant who applied for asylum in a transition area under the Paso del Norte bridge in El Paso, Texas. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Asylum-seeking migrants are detained in a transition area under the Paso del Norte bridge in El Paso. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Asylum-seeking migrants are detained in a transition area under the Paso del Norte bridge in El Paso. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

President Trump had threatened on Friday to close official border crossings with Mexico. He said in a tweet he would do it next week if Mexico could not stop the migrants. However, it would do little to prevent families from exercising their right to asylum, as most cross between entry points. An extension of the border wall would not help either. Since a meandering river separates much of the boundary where Trump wants to build new parts of the wall, a barrier would have to be erected on a stable dam a few meters north of the actual boundary line.

Every day, large groups gather here. Asylum seekers crossed the shallow river and then waited on the narrow strip of US territory north of the river and south of a newly constructed section of the wall. Sooner or later, khaki Border Patrol agents will pick up and pick up small vans.

US. Officials and migration experts say that the country's border infrastructure is simply not ready to tackle this new wave of crossings.

After all, the task of the border patrol is to detect people who enter the US illegally, not home and trial thousands of asylum seekers a day.

Similarly, the country's congested immigration judges are unable to quickly review the hundreds of thousands of asylum cases that the US is expecting this year. According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse of Syracuse University, more than 855,000 immigration procedures are currently awaiting the decision, which means that asylum seekers wait more than 700 days for a judge on average.


Asylum-seekers seek US Border Patrol Agents The El Paso side of the Rio Grande borders Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Merlin Genoveva Avila Amador of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, with children Leonel Moya Avila (8), and Jonathan Moya Avila (11) at Casa del Migrante in Ciudad Juarez. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Migrants are having lunch at Casa del Migrante in Ciudad Juarez. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Above, asylum seekers turn to US Border Patrol agents on the El Paso side of the Rio Grande bordering Mexico City's Ciudad Juarez border. Links Merlin Genoveva Avila Amador of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, with the children Leonel Moya Avila, 8, and Jonathan Moya Avila, 11, in the Casa del Migrante in Ciudad Juarez. Right, the migrants get a lunch at the shelter. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Ever since President Trump reversed his controversial policy of separating parents and children at the border last year, immigration officials have applied for asylum-seeking families and subsequently appealed to an asylum court USA dismiss date years in the future.

The recent release of such families seems to contribute to a mass exodus from Central America, with an estimated 1% of the total population of Honduras and Guatemala being picked up at the border tax year, said Adam Isacson, a researcher at the Washington office think tank in Latin America.

"There is a message that if you think you have to leave, now is the time," he said.

What Isacson said is that it no longer needs border fences but more aid to Central American countries to tackle the root causes of migration and a mass rent of new immigration judges to reduce the backlog.

He said that asylum-seeking families and unaccompanied children have arrived in the past five years, and US policy needs to adapt. "This is the new normal," he said.

Trump has repeatedly criticized the recent destruction of asylum seekers and painted them as economic migrants using the asylum procedure as a back door to the US. At a rally in Michigan on Thursday The President mocked those seeking asylum and described his efforts to gain protection in the US as "a fat jerk."

"This is absolutely an unyielding way to treat people. They do not let children sleep under underpasses.

Taylor Levy, Legal Coordinator at Annunciation House

Jobita Medina from Honduras is one of more than 400 migrants living in Casa Del Migrant, Ciudad Juarez. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
A Mexican immigrant and a child claiming asylum in the United States shed a tear as she told her story at Casa Del Migrant in Ciudad Juarez. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Left Jobita Medina of Honduras is one of more than 400 migrants in the Casa del Migrante in Ciudad Juarez. Right, a Mexican asylum seeker holds her child in her hand and cries as she tells her story at the Ciudad Juarez shelter. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Proponents of migrants insist that many of the crossers have legitimate fears of returning to their home countries. They claim that the outdoor holding center under the El Paso Bridge is evidence that the US does not treat migrants humanely.

"This is absolutely an unreasonable way to treat people," said Taylor Levy, Legal Coordinator at Annunciation House Migration House in El Paso. "They do not let children sleep under underpasses."

The story of a migrant father crossing the border into El Paso with his 9-year-old son on March 21, asking for asylum, underlines the complexity of the problem.

Elmer, a 32-year-old Guatemalan man who has just given his first name because he fears persecution at home and fears of US immigration officials, promises to pay a smuggler $ 6,000 to bring him to the US border bring to.

The smuggler told him to take his son along as individual asylum seekers are usually detained for months under US policies, but families seeking asylum are quickly released.

Elmer said eight of his relatives and ten of his son's classmates had gone the same way in recent months, thanks to rising crime in the city they live in and the falling prices of coffee beans that farmers like Elmer have met. In Guatemala, he earned less than $ 10 a day.

The couple's long journey with a number of smugglers to the north was long and often scary, Elmer said. As they crossed Mexico on hot buses, he feared he and his son might be abducted by criminal groups known to be victims of migrants.

The worst moment, however, came when they arrived in the US and were penned in the small outer holder in El Paso, which was surrounded by barbed wire. It was a tent built, in which only a small part of the living there migrants was housed. Border guard officials say the area is intended as a "temporary shelter," but Elmer and his son slept outside on the dirt for four days. Sick migrants coughed loudly and babies howled all night. Adults, Elmer said, got two sandwiches a day.

"We were hungry and cold," he said. "These were some of the hardest days of my life."

The couple was finally taken to asylum two days ago and taken to a local migrant home. On Thursday afternoon, they sat in the Greyhound station of El Paso and had the first buses ready to take them to Alabama, where two of Elmer's sisters live.

The station was full of dozens of migrants who had done so. He was just released from federal custody, and some of them, like Elmer, wore bulky ankle monitors over their pants.

Once they reached Alabama, Elmer planned to call his wife, who was home with her younger son in Guatemala. First, he said he would tell her he was safe. Then, he said, he would ask her not to make the long journey to join him.

The nights under the bridge in El Paso were too difficult, he said. "I do not want you to take that risk."

kate.linthicum@latimes.com

Twitter: @katelinthicum


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