Along the Mexican border over 10,000 immigrant workers per day, including many families, attempted to cross into the U.S. to seek asylum the week before the end of Washington’s COVID-era border policy known as Title 42. It expired May 12.
That policy entitled the government to immediately deport workers without papers crossing the border. It suspended laws permitting asylum-seekers to stay in the country while their claims were processed. Title 42 was initiated by Donald Trump’s administration and expanded under President Joseph Biden.
Since the start of the pandemic, more than 2.6 million workers have been sent back to Mexico or other countries. As there was no legal penalty for deportation, many workers tried again. In 2022 there were over 2.3 million illegal border crossings, the highest ever. In cooperation with Washington, the Mexican government apprehended nearly 450,000 additional migrant workers, stopping them from crossing the Rio Grande River that year.
Severino Ismael Martínez Santiago, director of the Pan de Vida shelter in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, told the Washington Post many immigrant workers are confused about what the lifting of Title 42 means. They believe that “the doors to the United States will be opened, and they can cross. But that is far from the truth. It will be worse for them.”
In El Paso, Texas, across from Ciudad Juarez, border patrol agents put immigrants in front of two massive gates at the wall on the border. “We just want to pass, but this process is so slow,” Jesus Juarez told the Post. Juarez spent a month traveling from Venezuela to reach the door. The agents periodically let in 10-15 people for processing, “but then 100 more arrive,” he said.
“We want to follow the rules, but it’s hard,” said Francisco Ortiz, who came with his wife and 1-year-old son from Honduras, hoping to work in construction in the U.S. “All I want to do is work and raise my son somewhere where we aren’t afraid of the violence.”
Washington’s new border policy
Under Washington’s new immigration rules, border authorities will automatically deny asylum to most migrant workers who haven’t first applied for asylum in another country along the way. Immigrant workers who reach Mexico can try to schedule an appointment at a U.S. port of entry by using a new cellphone app, CBP One.
Ramon Elias Suarez has been living in a squalid tent camp in Matamoros, Mexico for three months. “He’s tried repeatedly to access the CBP One app, showing a reporter how he’d get a reply that the app needed to be updated. When he pressed the button to do so, it took him to a Google symbol,” the Post reported May 12.
The new policy has exemptions for medical emergencies, children traveling alone and for Mexican nationals. And the government will accept up to 30,000 individuals per month from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba and Haiti, who can stay for two years — if they meet a number of requirements, including a U.S. sponsor.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in his press conference, “Let me be clear, our border is not open and will not be open after May 11.” Pointing to the agency’s 24,000 border agents, he said there would be “tougher consequences” for people trying to enter or re-enter the U.S. illegally.
Washington will open regional processing centers starting in Guatemala and Colombia, operated by the International Organization of Migration and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, to review immigration applications there. The U.S. is also scaling up the number of “removal flights,” including flights to Cuba, which resumed in April.
CNN reported May 12 there are an estimated 155,000 migrants in Mexican shelters or on the streets there. The backload of asylum cases in U.S. immigration courts has topped 820,000, the most ever.
The Associated Builders and Contractors in the U.S. estimates a shortage of half a million construction workers this year. “U.S. executives call for immigration reform to staff manufacturing boom,” read a May 16 headline in the Financial Times.
“The goal of immigration policies under capitalism is not to block immigration but to control it — to best meet the demands by the bosses for cheap labor and to reinforce the pariah status of undocumented workers,” Róger Calero, Socialist Workers Party candidate for New York City Council, told the Militant. “This is posed even more sharply today with the declining U.S. birth rate.
“The bosses seek to foster and exploit divisions between immigrant and native-born workers,” he said. “The SWP says the labor movement must fight for amnesty for all undocumented workers currently in the U.S. This is the road to unify the working class and strengthen our ability to fight back against the bosses.
“With the deepening of the worldwide capitalist economic crisis which hits workers in semicolonial countries especially hard, toilers will continue to try to get into the U.S. and other economically developed countries to escape poverty and repression,” Calero said.
“These fellow workers face the same challenges working people in the U.S. do — the need to build a revolutionary working-class leadership wherever they live. To organize independently of the bosses and their political parties, to fight to defend their class interests and to take political power into their own hands.”