Immigrants find safe havens in shelters amid border chaos

ABC News

(NEW YORK) — As the largest migrant caravan this year makes its way through Mexico toward the United States, numerous organizations on both sides of the border are trying to support the several thousand immigrants seeking asylum.

For people like Estefanía Rebellón, who runs a school within a shelter for migrants in Tijuana, the work is personal.

“When I was 10 years old, my parents had to travel to the United States from Colombia to seek asylum,” Rebellón told ABC News. “I know what it’s like to be transported from your home to a completely unknown place.”

Rebellón runs a school called Yes We Can, which provides free education to children five days a week while their families are preparing to cross the border into the United States.

This week, the Supreme Court voted to overturn the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, known formally as the Migrant Protection Protocols, or MPP, which required migrants seeking asylum and traveling through Mexico from a third country to return to Mexico while awaiting their court dates. The Biden administration has rarely enforced the policy and has said it seeks to end it.

Far more consequential has been former President Donald Trump’s policy called Title 42, which allows border officials to turn migrants seeking asylum away due to the health risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the American Immigration Council, over 1.8 million people have been expelled as a result.

Recently more than 50 people died in an alleged migrant smuggling operation in San Antonio, Texas, in what Homeland Security Investigations has called the deadliest incident of human smuggling in U.S. history.

Willie, a third-generation coyote, the colloquial term for a person who smuggles migrants across the U.S.-Mexico border, says that he has no qualms about his profession.

“Nothing in this life is safe,” Willie, who asked to be referred to by a pseudonym, told ABC News’ Maria Elena Salinas. “Right now, [there are] people who are helping their families and have thanked me for it.”

“For some it’s illegal. For us it’s legal,” he added of his illegal activities.

In Deming, New Mexico, 35 miles from the U.S. Mexico border, Ariana Saludares runs a pop-up shelter for migrants called Colores United.

Some who are dropped at her shelter have applied for asylum and are legally awaiting their claims; others have requested humanitarian parole. The shelter, which receives around 50 migrants twice a week, runs out of a number of local hotels.

Saludares says that, while she would love to have a permanent space for a shelter, the local hotels she operates out of are her only option.

“There’s no other space that’s available to us,” said Saludares. “We hope that will change one day, but we can’t wait. We need a shelter. And we need it now.”

Benny Jasso, the mayor of Deming is specifically concerned that removing Title 42 would mean an influx of migrants that he says the city cannot handle.

“What I’m concerned with is, are we going to be able to process them?” he told Salinas.

“We do not have the volunteer base right now to establish a shelter.”

He says that Deming currently receives no federal resources to help house the asylum seekers they receive.

What might be a concern to some, like added safety risks, are not a concern for Deming’s police chief Clint Hogan.

“We don’t have any issues… at all,” he told Salinas during an interview.

Marisa Ugarte is the founder and executive director of the human rights non-profit Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition, based in California.

Ugarte has helped people such as “Maria,” who is a survivor of abuse at the hands of people who promised to smuggle her safely across the border.

“Maria,” who is using a pseudonym due to safety concerns, was brought from El Salvador to Sonora, Mexico, where instead of finding safety she says she was repeatedly drugged and raped.

She finally managed to escape and fled to a shelter where she was helped by the workers, who encouraged her to make the trip to the U.S.

“Thank God I’m okay, even though I almost died,” “Maria” told Salinas. “But God never abandoned me.”

Maria was taken to meet Ugarte, who helped her obtain asylum in the U.S. For Ugarte, who has supported countless women in similar situations, the notion that people immigrating to the U.S. should do so the proverbial “right way,” waiting for whatever legal means are available at the time, is flawed.

“What is the right way?” she said. “If you’re running from violence and from dying, what is the right way?”

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