EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The black-haired woman in a pink blouse clasped her hands as if in prayer and addressed U.S. federal officers in the middle of the Paso del Norte International Bridge.
“Help us, please. Help us,” she said at the head of a crowd upwards of 1,000 that rushed the bridge from Mexico on Sunday afternoon, “We have been here a long time. Please, give us just one chance” (to cross the border).
The officers charged with protecting America’s borders didn’t budge, and the crowd – including the teary-eyed Venezuelan woman – eventually dispersed and returned to Mexico. But the incident allegedly prompted by social media rumors that the U.S. would finally let migrants in on Sunday illustrates the frustration and desperation of asylum seekers who feel abandoned by the U.S. and Mexican governments, an El Paso activist says.
“Migrants in transit are now trapped in limbo, without legal options to access asylum,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights. “Mexico does not have the infrastructure nor the political will to support Venezuelan refugees. When they are in Mexico, they are alone.”
Last October, the Biden administration instructed Venezuelans to apply for asylum remotely using the CBP One app, after procuring a sponsor and official identification documents. The program disqualified those who attempted to come into the country illegally. The administration expanded the program to Haitians, Nicaraguans and Cubans in January, and has published plans to reject those who cross into third countries and didn’t apply for protection there.
Border Report has interviewed numerous Venezuelans in Juarez who said their identification documents were lost, stolen or too expensive to acquire in the first place. Most say they’ve been unable to access CBP One or are quickly timed out of the app.
“Most of them struggle with access to technology and will not be able to meet the requisites. The program was designed so they would be rejected,” Garcia said. The administration is “following a policy of attrition, counting on them getting tired of the lack of options and the mistreatment so they are left no choice but to go back to their countries.”
U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, agrees migrants have had issues accessing the CBP One app. She also said social media rumors about changes in U.S. immigration policy are rife in Latin America.
“In every country south of us, social media has been used to fuel rumors and false hopes among migrant populations. They’re saying either, ‘now’s the time to come,’ or ‘now’s not the time to come,’” she said.
The rumors did not start with the Biden administration, she said.
“We saw this as far back as the Trump administration. One of the things we heard on social media platforms was, ‘now’s the time to come, before a wall is built,’” Escobar said.
She called on all social media platforms to be more socially responsible when it comes to stemming rumors that lead to the displacement of vulnerable populations.
“The State Department needs to lean in and provide much more educational support south of us. Many of the migrants who are making the journey don’t understand immigration law. […] So, State has a role in helping address that, not as a deterrent for people running for their lives, but at the very least to provide additional information.”