UN agencies share migration experience in Mexican border town at the epicenter of influx of migrants
Juarez, Mexico (border report) – John Torres watches a steady stream of people entering and exiting a building with a large white sign in downtown Juarez and wonders if he should join them.
The 27-year-old unemployed street vendor left his native Venezuela last month and hopes to join friends working in Denver. He needs a salary soon so that he can send money to his children and mother, who stayed in South America.
“Of course I want to work. Be productive. I hope people understand that we came here to work, to work hard,” Torres says, leaning against a wrought iron fence along 16th Street.th September Avenue in Juarez. “I was a trader in Venezuela, but all this is no more. The government has removed the merchants from the streets. The streets are so empty that they inspire fear.
But to get to Denver, Torres learned he needed to apply for asylum through a US government mobile app called CBP One. The instructions are in English and Spanish—Torres’ native language—but he can barely understand them.
“Now we are in this process, working on these documents,” Torres said, speaking in the third person. “It’s a little hard, but if you don’t try… Nothing is impossible, right?”
The building across the street from Torres houses the local headquarters of the United Nations International Organization for Migration. The head of the IOM Juarez office, Thiago Almeida, said that it is not only Venezuelans on the road who are having difficulty with the application, which is a necessary place for Venezuelans, Haitians, Cubans and Nicaraguans to initiate the asylum process in the United States.
“Doubts arise every time a new procedure appears. People come here with a lot of questions. We offer reliable information in a safe place,” Almeida said as blue-shirted OIM officers were checking those who wanted to enter the building. “We are always worried about people trying to take advantage of migrants.”
An IOM leader in Juarez said some migrants have complained about people offering to help them with the CBP One app for a fee. It’s a scam, he said.
“Yes, we have problems with that, especially now that there are so many vulnerable people on the streets,” he said. “They come with promises to help them move to the United States for a fee, they pose as lawyers and other professionals offering help with free CBP One. We advise migrants to contact us or other organizations here in Juarez to help people in a situation of mobility.”
The scale of this illegal activity is difficult to assess because migrants tend to share such experiences only with people they trust and rarely file formal complaints.
UN agencies bring migration experience to Juarez
Protecting migrants from fraud is just one aspect of the UN’s work in Juarez, which, along with its American neighbor El Paso, Texas, became the epicenter of mass migration to the United States in the second half of 2022.
The agency opened an office in Juarez three years ago, just as the Trump administration sent all but the most vulnerable migrants to wait in Mexico for their asylum applications under the Migrant Protection Protocols program.
This was followed by two years of deaths and lockdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s when the IOM started to change things, Juarez’s representatives told Border Report.
The agency agreed with the local authorities to rent an abandoned hotel. They recruited migrant medical volunteers, including four Cuban doctors. The so-called “filter hotel” has quarantined more than 4,500 newcomers to Juarez, whether they are migrants bound for the United States or those expelled under Section 42 public health rule.
The Cuban doctors went to their destinations and IOM replaced them with their own medical staff. When the filter hotel closed at the end of last year, IOM sent its health workers to visit each of the approximately 30 migrant shelters in Juarez.
“We are looking for a new location for our medical staff to continue supporting the shelters. Since medical care is confidential, we do not want to make public where we will be located, ”Almeida said.
IOM was the first UN agency to come on a mission to Juarez, but others followed. It was followed by UNICEF, the United Nations children’s agency. UNICEF maintains a shelter in Juarez for unaccompanied minors who have not yet reached the United States or have been expelled.
“Mexican minors continue to be expelled and it is worrying that some of them have broken the cycle,” he said, referring to unaccompanied Mexican children who are being targeted by smuggling organizations. These minors – mostly teenagers between the ages of 14 and 16 – are recruited by smugglers as “guides” leading groups of migrants through the border wall, over mountains or deserts. Some are being expelled from school again and again, and social workers hope to help them break the cycle.
“Migration flows are very dynamic,” said Almeida, who previously worked for the UN on the Brazil-Venezuela border. “Our goal is to ensure a comprehensive humanitarian response in all possible situations.”