JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) – Huddled in a north Juarez alley overlooking the Rio Grande, a group of Venezuelan migrants refuses to give up on the American dream.
Cold and hungry, members of the group tell a visiting Dutch television crew about their 2,000-mile trek to the U.S.-Mexico border and how they have survived for months in a foreign land.
“Brother, we share everything. We help each other. If one of us has food, we all eat,” said Omar, a Venezuelan national who failed to reach the border before the U.S. government in October changed its policies on how citizens of that South American country can apply for asylum.
Several of Omar’s relatives were able to turn themselves in to U.S. immigration agents at the border wall in El Paso, Texas. They were released on parole with notices to appear in immigration court when called to begin a judicial process that could last years. They are now in East Coast cities, starting new lives.
Omar learned he needs to secure a sponsor in the U.S. and use a cellphone app called CBP One to file an asylum application. But he’s having trouble using the app and like other members of the group wonders if an earlier expulsion from the United States under the Title 42 public health rule will affect their application.
“Our family is not with us […] Practically everyone is over there. I am alone. But now, in this place, this is my family,” Omar said this week, referring to half a dozen migrants around him.
A block away, another group of Venezuelans hustled to wash the windshields of stopped cars in the hope motorists would share spare change.
Juarez officials have told Border Report they are struggling to convince many Venezuelans to sleep in shelters for their own protection, particularly given freezing overnight temperatures.
The migrants say it’s not that easy. The shelters near the Rio Grande are full. Their operators are only admitting women and children, they said.
Ervin, part of Omar’s group, showed reporters a spot on the dirt alley where the Venezuelans lay on top of cardboard or rags at night, covering themselves up with donated blankets.
“It’s hard to sleep on the street,” he said. “And then the police don’t leave you in peace.”
Juarez authorities in the past few weeks have urged the Venezuelans to stay away from intersections lest they be struck by cars. They have also responded to a few merchants’ complaints in tourist areas.
The Venezuelans may move, maybe to another street corner, but are replaced by a new group, said Santiago Gonzalez Reyes, head of Juarez’s Human Rights Office.
There is also the issue of Juarez a city with one of the highest homicide rates in the world and one where migrants are a target for smugglers and kidnappers, according to U.S. immigrant advocates.
Safety is one of the reasons the Venezuelans band together. Several groups could be observed this week standing on or walking the streets of north Juarez.
The Venezuelans say they will be content to leave Juarez once the U.S. opens the doors to them. In the meantime, they say they are not going anywhere.