As a member of the National Immigration Forum’s Digital Communications team, every day, I read, write, and talk about people, stories, and policies connected to the U.S.-Mexico border. I work less than four miles from the White House, and over 1,900 miles from the bridge that links Mexico’s Ciudad Juárez and El Paso in the U.S. — an epicenter of the regional and global migration that I write about each day.
Last week, I visited El Paso and Juárez with members of the Forum staff and the We Welcome team, to deepen our understanding of how policies and narratives surrounding the border shape the lives of people who live there. To be present in this vibrant, dynamic regional hub bisected by an international boundary is to be reminded of the inexorable ties between policy mandates that originate 1,900 miles away at the White House and the lived realities of people and communities on either side of the border.
We got to El Paso in the days following the Biden administration’s announcement that it was creating a parole program for a limited number of Venezuelans, but had reached an agreement with Mexico to rely on Title 42 to immediately expel other Venezuelans coming to the U.S.-Mexico border to seek asylum. Community leaders and shelter staff in El Paso said that they had been intently focused on ensuring they would have sufficient resources to continue welcoming thousands of Venezuelan migrants. But suddenly, they told us, Venezuelans stopped arriving there. After a harrowing journey through several countries, often on foot, many Venezuelans who would previously have made it to El Paso and attempted to claim asylum instead are being expelled immediately to Mexico. There, most are only permitted to stay in Mexico just 15 days before they must make their way to another country.
Decisions from Washington not only impact the migrants and shelter staff whom we talked with in Juárez, they also shape the day-to-day reality of the Border Patrol agents on the U.S. side of the border. We spoke with members of Border Patrol who have deep, multigenerational roots in the region and a sincere desire to be good stewards of their communities and protectors of their country. They reminded us that changes in policy from the White House can dramatically alter their responsibilities, sometimes over the course of just few short hours.
Title 42 and the labyrinth of shifting rules around its implementation have posed a particular challenge. Much to their frustration, the Border Patrol agents said, the policy has led to an increase in the number of times they encounter people trying to enter the U.S. without detection. In addition, they told us that to their great sadness, at times Title 42 has also required them to expel asylum-seekers who have compelling stories about persecution they face in their home countries.
Our conversations with the migrants, aid workers, faith leaders, and law enforcement officials who collectively make up the binational, multicultural region of Juárez and El Paso made one thing clear above all: for border communities, immigrants, and the American economy to flourish, we need meaningful, bipartisan immigration reform.
Photo by Danielle Desnoyers of Retake.