Monday marked the two-year anniversary of a policy by former President Donald Trump aimed to prevent asylum seekers from crossing the border during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some migrant advocates marked the anniversary by calling for President Joe Biden to end the policy.
New Mexico Dream Team Co-Director Felipe Rodriguez told NM Political Report that asylum seekers waiting to enter the U.S. are mostly immigrants from Central America who are fleeing violence from organized crime, as well as other issues caused by political and economic instability and climate change.
“Climate change is hitting Central America really bad,” he said.
Rodriguez said climate change issues are making it harder for farmers to remain sustainable in Central America.
“Walking from Central America to the [U.S.-Mexico] border is extremely dangerous. A lot of people cannot make it. For people to decide to do that, their circumstances are so bad that making the trip is the only solution,” he said.
Rodriguez said asylum seekers are living in tents in border cities such as Ciudad Juárez and are running out of food. He said more asylum seekers are arriving, increasing the number of people waiting at the border to cross. They are in a very vulnerable situation and many are now being kidnapped. The kidnappers then contact family members already living in the U.S. and require a ransom to set the asylum seekers free, he said.
“The people staying by the border waiting for their cases to be heard are very vulnerable to that situation,” he said.
Rodriguez said that he knows firsthand what asylum seekers are running away from because 11 years ago, he had to flee Mexico due to organized crime targeting his family.
Nonprofit groups have called for an end to the Trump era policy, called Title 42, which prohibits asylum seekers from crossing the border. Trump initially said he was implementing the policy in order to protect the U.S. from the spread of the respiratory disease just a few days into the pandemic. Rodriguez said that, by now, the U.S. has the means to prevent disease spread among individuals who cross the border and with the numbers of cases in a downward trend and mask mandates lifting, the policy is even less defensible now than it was two years ago.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced earlier this month an exception in Title 42 for unaccompanied children crossing the border. The agency said that expelling unaccompanied children who cross the border to protect public health “is not warranted.”
Many advocates have called the policy racist. Rodriguez said the Biden Administration has not said why it continues to keep the policy in place.
Rodriguez said there are organizations that are trying to render aid to the families waiting in tent cities across the border, but there are thousands waiting and the need is too large.