JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) – As a group of asylum-seekers from Cuba talked to reporters near the Cuauhtémoc market on Thursday, a Mexican vendor shouted: “You’re going to miss Juarez. You’ll never forget Mexico.”
That is true on many levels, said some of the migrants who have been stuck in Mexico under the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program for almost two years. Some have been victims of crime; most have barely made enough to eat and pay rent working odd jobs at places like Juarez’s Market District.
But most were grateful to have survived in this city long enough to see a web page go up this week where they can register to pursue their claims from inside the United States. The page — conecta.acnur.org — is supposed to go live on Friday, pending last-minute technical glitches.
“Thank God, we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Marcelo Benitez, a native of Buena Vista, Cuba, who works at a barbershop in the Market District.
Benitez, 48, is making plans to join his son in Arizona in the coming weeks and meet his newborn grandson – a U.S. citizen. “He’s 4 months old and I want to get to know him. After that, I’m ready to go to work and enjoy freedom because in my country I never knew freedom. All I knew was dictatorship,” said the former carpenter who fled Cuba after authorities seized his tools, fined him for daring to start his own home-based business and threatened to jail him.
His coworker, Edwin Hernandez, 33, left Venezuela under threats for opposing the Nicolas Maduro regime. Like Benitez, he was placed on MPP, also known as “Remain in Mexico.” He was overjoyed to find the website on Thursday.
“I can’t wait to sign up and get the date of when I’m supposed to show up at the (port of entry). I know I need to get a COVID-19 test and wait to be called,” he said.
Hernandez said he’s endured hardship – including extortion at an airport by Mexican police — and kept a low profile in Mexico to avoid becoming a victim of crime in a city notorious for its drug cartel violence. “All I want is an opportunity to live and freedom. We are not bad people. We came to work, and we will not disappoint President Biden,” he said.
President Joe Biden last month announced he was phasing out MPP, which the Trump administration started to manage the mass arrival of asylum-seekers from Central America and elsewhere in 2018 and 2019.
The program caught migrants unprepared to endure lengthy waits in Mexican border cities they didn’t know and where they felt unsafe. More than 60,000 were placed in the program, but the Biden administration estimates that fewer than half continue to actively pursue their case.
The portal hosted by the UN Refugee Agency is meant for those in the MPP program that have not been turned down or missed court appearances.
Hernandez said he is hopeful his claim will be approved. He’s making plans to travel to New Jersey and join his brothers who preceded him in coming to the United States.
Both apprentice barbers — Hernandez is a computer programmer — said they will remember Juarez fondly when they reach the United States. Despite the constant fear of being hit by a stray bullet or being kidnapped by gang members, the Venezuelan and the Cuban emigres said the rest of the people in Juarez have treated them kindly and lent support.
“I would ask all the other (migrants) who are still here in Juarez to be patient. Don’t go to the (international) bridges if you’re not called. Don’t try to force your way in because you’ll make all of us migrants look bad. Let’s remember we’re in another country and we have to respect the laws,” Hernandez said.