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(NEW YORK) — The bridge that connects Hidalgo, Texas, to Reynosa, Mexico, has become a path of uncertainty and fear for thousands of families seeking opportunity.
Amid continued ambiguity over US immigration policies, a migrant encampment has grown to around 2,200 in the past year, according to estimates from nonprofits working in the region. . The Sea of Tents is about a block from the International Bridge in the city of Reynosa in northern Mexico.
Jessica Leon, a Salvadoran mother who has been in Reynosa for seven months with her young children, told ABC News that life in the camp is “dangerous” and “difficult”.
“We are exposed to many dangers here, like cartels, for example. Anyone can come in here at any time. We are extremely vulnerable to many dangers,” she said.
“I’ve been waiting for asylum, and we’ve been waiting for a long time. And when you don’t see results, you feel hopeless,” Leon added.
As the families face harsh living conditions, the fate of their trips depends in part on how long the Biden administration continues to use Title 42, a policy reinforced by the Trump administration during the pandemic. It allows US Customs and Border Protection to deport thousands of migrants amid the COVID-19 pandemic without giving them the opportunity to seek asylum in the United States.
Title 42 refers to a clause in the Public Health Services Act of 1944 that allows the government to prevent migrants from entering the United States during public health emergencies; however, defenders challenging the administration’s use of the order in court have argued that US law does not allow the government to deport people seeking asylum without due process.
Customs and Border Protection encountered 1.7 million people at the US-Mexico border in 2021, according to data released by the agency last month – the highest on record in a year. About 1.2 million people encountered were deported under Title 42, CBP said.
.@ABCMireya speaks exclusively to the head of the U.S. Border Patrol who is preparing his officers for a possible change in policy, as migrant families continue to be in limbo in Mexico. “I don’t have enough agents, I know I don’t have enough equipment,” he says. https://t.co/x8J07soSZR pic.twitter.com/RHhwEhUfN1
— ABC News Live (@ABCNewsLive) February 18, 2022
US Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz spoke exclusively to ABC News correspondent Mireya Villarreal about the growing problems along the border. Although he recognizes that Title 42 is a tool they would like to continue using, his agency is preparing for it to eventually disappear.
“We know this won’t last forever as the health pandemic begins to wane…that we may not have Title 42 forever,” Ortiz said. “So we have to make adjustments to be able to prepare for that. And so what I’m doing is making sure that I have treatment coordinators who can do some of those tasks and responsibilities, and then m to ensure our officers are safe.”
“You know, at one point I had two, three thousand officers in quarantine almost every day,” he added. “Right now I have maybe two or three hundred in quarantine. So we’re protecting ourselves better. And I think that’s some of those things that have to happen for us to be successful.”
Chief Ortiz said he recognizes declining morale and regularly reminds officers not to get drawn into political discussions.
“I know I don’t have enough agents, I know I don’t have enough equipment, and then I know I have to close some doors and gaps. That would put us in a better position to be successful.” , he added.
Title 42 was strengthened during the pandemic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In a statement to ABC News, CDC officials said that every 60 days the agency reviews “the status of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated public health risks.”
The latest assessment completed in late January determined that the use of Title 42 remains “in effect,” the CDC said, citing the impact of the pandemic and an “increase in cases and hospitalizations since December due to the highly transferable from Omicron”. “
Across the border in Reynosa, Mexico, Felicia Rangel-Samponaro, principal of The Sidewalk School, an American nonprofit organization that runs solely on donations, told ABC News that the school “should grow at a very rapid pace” to accommodate a surge in child asylum seekers from various countries.
The organization provides clothes and food to families who lack resources and live in conditions that make cooking extremely difficult.
Rangel-Samponaro said she has seen the encampment grow every day as the number of migrants has increased and said the problem “never stopped” under the Biden administration.
“There are no white asylum seekers in this camp, and that’s what people should be asking themselves. Why is it different for white asylum seekers? ?” she says.
A few miles away, Pastor Hector Silva runs the Senda De Vida Shelter – part of the Senda De Vida Ministry House, which has been providing support to migrant families for over two decades.
Silva said most families crossing the border return after running out of money, and the shelter provides them with food and clothing as they face a life in limbo.
Jessica Leon has a brother who lives in Houston, Texas, and hopes to give her children a “good future” in the United States, because in El Salvador they struggled with poverty and lack of job opportunities.
Leon said she and her children live in a tent with a mattress that her children share, while she sleeps on the floor.
“For love and to achieve our dreams, we endure, but it’s very difficult,” she said.
Next week, the Biden administration plans to begin processing and admitting migrants forced to wait in Mexico under the Trump administration’s “migrant protection protocols,” three administration officials told ABC. News.
The Biden administration is currently engaged in a legal battle with a coalition of civil rights groups, led by the American Civil Liberties Union, over its use of Title 42.
The White House defended its use of the public health order in federal court just last month, arguing that lifting it would lead to overcrowding at DHS facilities and that an influx of migrants poses a risk to public health.
Rangel-Samponaro said migrants caught in limbo are hoping changes in US immigration policies will give them a chance for a fresh start.
“What you see is hope for Biden to win the 42nd title, which he can anytime he wants,” Rangel-Sampanaro said. Eliminating the use of Title 42 would give migrants a chance to apply for asylum, he said.
And for the families living in the Reynosa camp, the hope for a better future for their children keeps them going.
“Believe me it’s difficult, please keep us in mind because there are a lot of families who are hurting. Children are the most vulnerable,” Leon said.
ABC News’ William Gallego, Luke Barr and Quinn Owen contributed to this report.
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