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Blocked from asylum, migrants juggle their choices: try to cross again or give up

Migrants walk to the Dennis DeConcini Port of Entry for a CBP One meeting in Nogales, Arizona on Friday, June 7, 2024.
Ash Ponders for NPR
Migrants walk to the Dennis DeConcini Port of Entry for a CBP One meeting in Nogales, Arizona on Friday, June 7, 2024.

NOGALES, Mexico — It’s a relatively quiet Saturday morning at the Kino Border Initiative migrant shelter.

At the back of the main dining room, there’s a mural that resembles Leonardo DaVinci’s The Last Supper. But this painting shows Jesus eating with disciples and feeding migrants.

At one of the picnic tables, sitting by herself, is 32-year-old Paty. She and her young daughter recently arrived here from Oaxaca, Mexico. Paty asked not to be identified by her full name because she worries about the safety of her family back home.

“I was searching for a miracle for my girl,” she says in Spanish.

That miracle she's searching for is being able to afford a costly medical treatment for one of her daughters with a rare blood disorder who stayed in her home state. Her only option, Paty says, was to migrate to the U.S. to work and save the money needed to help her daughter.

She had planned to go to Wisconsin.

Migrant “Paty” poses for a portrait with her daughter at the Kino shelter in Nogales, Sonora on Saturday, June 8, 2024.
Ash Ponders for NPR /
Migrant “Paty” poses for a portrait with her daughter at the Kino shelter in Nogales, Sonora on Saturday, June 8, 2024.

So a few days ago, she attempted to cross into the U.S. without authorization, but she was detained and deported.

“We learned about the new policy when we got back to Mexico,” Paty says. “That’s when we learned no one was getting asylum.”

Paty is one of thousands of migrants who have been deported — instead of being given an opportunity to claim asylum — as part of President Biden’s executive actions implemented early last week.

Under the policy, migrants who cross without authorization — absent exceptional circumstances — will not be eligible for asylum, and will be removed in an expeditious manner.

This ban would continue until 14 days after the seven-day average of illegal crossings goes below 1,500. It can be reinstated once the number goes over 2,500.

Migrants will be subject to at least “a five year bar to reentry and potential criminal prosecution,” according to the rule by the Department of Homeland Security. .

The goal of the policy, the administration has said, is to deter illegal migration. But it’s too early to know whether it would be effective.

Paty, at least, has not been deterred, and says she will try to get an asylum appointment through the CBP One app — one of the legal pathways President Biden has been encouraging migrants to use to petition asylum.

The app uses a lottery system to give out only 1,500 appointments per day. Many migrants have to wait months to get one.

Jun 8 2024, Nogales, Sonora—A two vantage point flag has been affixed to the border wall in Nogales, Sonora on Saturday, June 8, 2024. CREDIT: Ash Ponders for National Public Radio
Arizona Biden EO
Ash Ponders for NPR /
A two vantage point flag has been affixed to the border wall in Nogales, Sonora on Saturday, June 8, 2024.
Cars line up to cross into Mexico early in morning in Nogales, Arizona on Friday, June 7, 2024.
Ash Ponders for NPR /
Cars line up to cross into Mexico early in morning in Nogales, Arizona on Friday, June 7, 2024.
Jun 7 2024, Nogales, Sonora—Liz and her two sons pose for a portrait in Nogales, Sonora on Friday, June 7, 2024. CREDIT: Ash Ponders for National Public Radio
Arizona Biden EO
Ash Ponders for NPR /
Liz and her two sons pose for a portrait in Nogales, Sonora on Friday, June 7, 2024.

“If I don’t hear back before June 17, I already have plans to cross into the U.S. in another way,” Paty says.

That’s the day the smugglers she paid $5,000 to cross the border told her she could try again.

Paty’s case illustrates the challenges policies aimed at curbing illegal migration face.

And data shows orders like Biden’s tend to lower illegal crossings, but only for a brief period of time.

An analysis by the Washington Office on Latin America shows that number goes up after a few months. That is because the root causes of mass migration — like poverty and violence — continue to be there.

Migrants Daniel López and  Alicia Pereda pose for a portrait in Nogales, Sonora on Friday, June 7, 2024.
Ash Ponders for National Public Radio /
Migrants Daniel López and Alicia Pereda pose for a portrait in Nogales, Sonora on Friday, June 7, 2024.

That’s what prompted Daniel López to leave his hometown of Puebla, Mexico.

“We fear for our lives and that of our kids,” he says. We don’t know what to do.”

Daniel López, his wife, mom and two kids arrived at the San Juan Bosco shelter Friday afternoon.

López says they left their hometown four days before Biden’s executive order went into effect.

By the time they tried to cross into the U.S., the new restrictions were in place.

Jun 8 2024, Nogales, Sonora—Migrants gather for lunch at the Kino shelter in Nogales, Sonora on Saturday, June 8, 2024. CREDIT: Ash Ponders for National Public Radio
Arizona Biden EO
Ash Ponders for NPR /
Migrants gather for lunch at the Kino shelter in Nogales, Sonora on Saturday, June 8, 2024.

“We didn’t know that after that date we were all going to be turned back,” he says.

He doesn’t know what’s going to happen next. But without money, López and his family are considering going back to Puebla.

“We made the mistake of crossing illegally,” he says. “But that’s the desperation of a person who fears for the safety of his loved ones, and because of the need for food.”

Copyright 2024 NPR

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán
Sergio Martínez-Beltrán (SARE-he-oh mar-TEE-nez bel-TRAHN) is an immigration correspondent based in Texas.