Try, Try Again: For Some Central Americans, US Politics Opens a Revolving Door | world news

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – After six attempts to enter the United States from Mexico in two and a half months, Nicolas, a 35-year-old Guatemalan migrant, risked failing and returning home thousands of dollars in debt .

Then, on his seventh shot – squeezing into a corner on a freight train for a harrowing seven-hour ride to Texas – he was successful.

Since the pandemic flattened the tourist economy of its lakeside city in Guatemala, word has gradually spread among Central Americans trying to enter the United States that once at the border they can keep trying again. , day after day, even if they are repressed the first times.

This development is an unintended consequence of a COVID-19 health order implemented under former President Donald Trump that was put in place to slow migration during the pandemic. It has so far been kept in place by President Joe Biden despite calls for him to end it by migrant rights advocates.

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Known as Title 42, the health order allows U.S. border officials to quickly return mostly Central American adults and families to the Mexican side of the border, without imposing traditional penalties on repeat offenders that can include prison, nor deport them to their country of origin. thousands of miles to the south.

For Nicolas, it offered opportunities to keep trying.

“I said to myself, ‘I can’t go back to Guatemala. I’m going to fight,'” Nicolas said, remembering the promise to provide for his three children and his wife. He had used his land as collateral to pay for the trip.

“If I go back to Guatemala…I will lose everything.” Nicolas spoke on the condition of using only his first name because he has no legal status in the United States.

The repeated crossings have contributed to the rise in migrant arrests at the US-Mexico border to their highest monthly level in 20 years in the past two months.

This increase in crossings adds to the complications facing US President Joe Biden’s administration as it tries to craft more humane border policies under pressure from opposition Republicans and some Democrats over its handling of immigration.

Biden officials have said they will end this unprecedented use of Title 42, a pre-existing health code, when the Centers for Disease Control says it is safe to end it. They did not provide a timeline.

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) turned away 94,082 single adults in April under Title 42, compared to 14,200 the same month in 2020 when the policy was just introduced and pandemic closures severely restricted movement migrants.

Nearly 30% of people apprehended at the border last month had crossed it multiple times, a CBP spokesperson said, up from 7% in fiscal year 2019.

“If the goal is border management, Title 42 doesn’t work,” said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy adviser at the American Immigration Council, which advocates for migrants in the United States. “It led to more people crossing the border more times.”

CBP said the order was intended to prevent infections by reducing the number of migrants gathered in detention centers, and some Republican lawmakers backed it for migration control.

“The Biden administration has made it clear that while we rebuild our immigration system, people shouldn’t make the dangerous journey,” a White House official said. “There is no policy change at this time.”

Nicolas attempted to migrate to the United States twice in 2019 but was deported to Guatemala each time.

To cover smuggling costs of approximately $12,000 for the two attempts, he lost the small plot of land he had inherited from his mother and his two-bedroom house.

When the pandemic hit, he lost his job driving tourists through the jungles and volcanoes surrounding Lake Atitlan. He turned to crops and collecting firewood to feed his 10-year-old son and two daughters, ages 7 and 1, and found the courage to attempt another trip to the United States.

This time Nicolas took out a bank loan with his wife’s land as collateral and raised $13,000 to pay a smuggler again.

He was accompanied by eight young men from his hometown of San Pedro la Laguna, where the local indigenous language is Tz’utujil. They arrived in Nuevo Laredo in northeastern Mexico across the border from Texas in January.

On Nicolas’ first attempt to cross the Rio Grande, he tried to swim away from border agents, for fear of being deported. Officers caught him anyway and dropped him off at the international bridge within minutes.

He passed the news on to his brother back home, who told Reuters how news of the new method of crossing the border had started to spread.

Nicolas said his smugglers offered to help him cross as many times as he needed within three months, but would charge him nearly $2,600 for another three-month run.

After Nicholas was caught crossing the river four more times, the smugglers tried a new tactic. They drove him and other migrants out into the desert to wait for a freight train heading for Texas. After five days with little food and water, the train arrived one night at 3 am. Nicholas got stuck in a slot above the wheel and held on for the seven-hour trip to the Texas town of Agua Dulce.

They were captured when a drone alerted migration agents of their arrival, Nicolas said, and once again they sent him to Mexico. A second time, he clung to the bottom of the dusty freight train to reach Texas.

This time his luck held.

Nicolas now lives in Houston and lands construction jobs outside a Home Depot store, helping him send part of his $100-a-day salary home. Every week, his wife makes payments on Nicolas’ debt.

Nicolas says he hopes, in a few years, to return to his family.

“I miss them very much. But I came here out of necessity,” he said.

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon, Additional reporting by Sofia Menchu ​​in Guatemala and Ted Hesson and Trevor Hunnicutt in Washington; Editing by Ross Colvin and Aurora Ellis)

Copyright 2021 Thomson Reuters.

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