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Asylum seekers share their stories as Title 42 comes to an end: What Biden's new rule means for them

Immigrants from Venezuela cover up during a dust storm at a makeshift immigrant camp located between the Rio Grande and the U.S.-Mexico border fence on May 10, 2023 in El Paso, Texas. (John Moore/Getty Images)
Immigrants from Venezuela cover up during a dust storm at a makeshift immigrant camp located between the Rio Grande and the U.S.-Mexico border fence on May 10, 2023 in El Paso, Texas. (John Moore/Getty Images)

Hear this interview on our podcast, Here & Now Anytime.

Editor’s note: The migrants in this segment are identified by their last name only because they fear for their safety.

The pandemic-era public health order Title 42 that allows the U.S. to quickly turn back migrants at the border ends at midnight.

The Biden administration has finalized a new rule involving apps and registration that advocates say will make it more difficult for many to claim asylum. U.S. officials say the goal is to discourage migrants from crossing the border illegally and to create new legal pathways. Despite these challenges, thousands of migrants facing danger in their home countries are still hoping to claim asylum in the U.S.

Just past the border from El Paso, Texas, Gonzalez was recently at a busy migrant informational center in Ciudad Juarez.

She had just spent another morning trying to get an appointment using the government’s CBP One app. Migrants are required to use the app to book an appointment with U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials to determine whether they can enter the U.S.

Gonzalez, her husband and cousin are seeking asylum because they are afraid to return to their home in the central Mexican city of Guanajuato, she says.

“My tragedy began, unfortunately, in 2019,” Gonzalez says. “My brother was assassinated in 2019. In 2020 my mother was assassinated. And just 4 months ago my only brother left was also killed.”

Her mother witnessed her first brother’s killing and reported the murder to the police. She says the killer retaliated by coming after her mother and her remaining brother. She and her husband hid in their home, only leaving when it was absolutely necessary.

“I don’t trust anybody. My husband only went to work and back. But they found him at his work and beat him up. I didn’t know what happened to him,” she says. “When I went to look for him, where he worked, everything was wide open but he wasn’t there. Then the next day, as I was walking near our home, he arrived all beaten up.”

Her husband was not just beaten up, Gonzalez says, he had been tortured. She took photos of cigarette burns on his hands.

Her cousin fled and hid in nearby mountains when men tried to kidnap him, she says. Gonzalez doesn’t know if it was a gang attack on her family or the cartels.

Last month, they headed for the U.S. to claim asylum only to discover the closed border. And frustration using an app to secure an appointment with border patrol ensued.

“Every morning we try to get an appointment on the app. Many times when the appointment calendar comes up then it kicks me out,” Gonzalez says “The furthest I have gotten is when you need to upload a photo or video, but then I cannot go any further.”

The family stayed in a shelter but left after Gonzalez experienced a severe allergic reaction to bed bugs. Now they are spending the last of their money on a hotel room and praying for the app to work so they can present their case legally to U.S. authorities.

Title 42, the COVID-era emergency measure, made the quick expulsion of migrants at the border possible and nearly halted the processing of asylum applications for more than three years.

As Here & Now talked to the Gonzalez family, another young man arrived at the information center. Giron came to the border from Honduras.

“Because I was being forced to pay extortion money,” he says. “And they killed my brother in 2020.”

Giron has been staying in Ciudad Juarez for 3 years waiting to cross into the U.S. legally. He thought the app would finally help him make an appointment to see someone, but he doesn’t know how to read and write and cannot use the app.

Jennifer Babaie directs legal services at the Las Americas immigrant advocacy center. She says stories like these are incredibly common.

“To speak to anyone who’s been staying in Juarez, whether for a month or for several years, who’s been seeking entry into the U.S. for asylum,” Babaie says, “it’s the exception rather than the rule for them not to have experienced kidnapping, to have experienced having family members killed and to then experience issues in Juarez.”

3 questions with Jennifer Babaie

What are you seeing Thursday on the ground as Title 42 expires?

“There is a mix of desperation and an expectation that after today, individuals who have been waiting for months or years will be able to enter. And so the role of legal providers, such as our organization, is trying to disseminate accurate information about what’s actually going to take place and how difficult it will continue to be to be able to access our asylum system.”

There’s this new rule from the Biden administration that’s going into effect at 11:59 p.m. when Title 42 expires. It’s going to apply to everyone now at the border and those coming who don’t have a visa to enter but want to make a claim of asylum. There are three exemptions, can you explain them?

“First and foremost, the rule is prioritizing and seeking to emphasize that individuals enter with a mobile app called CBP One. If you enter and wait for an appointment that way and cross at a port of entry, then you would be exempt from this rule.

“The second means if you can show that you applied for asylum in another country on the way to the U.S. and you were denied.

“And then final and foremost is humanitarian parole, which is only available for a very, very small number of nationalities and requires its own expectations and qualifications before you can enter.

“You must have a sponsor already in the U.S. who is the one who actually submits the paperwork on your behalf to say that you can enter with this temporary protection.”

What do you think is going to happen?

“For advocates such as myself, we’re expecting to see a lot of the same humanitarian issues we saw under Title 42. We’re expecting to need to find ways to disseminate legal information quickly in situations such as shelters.

“We’re also expecting to see family separation, which has been a big issue since Title 42  was enacted, and these are all concerns and issues that we’re trying to prepare for.”

Ashley Locke produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Catherine Welch. Welch also adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.