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Texas

When Biden visits El Paso on Sunday, migrants flock to the church for comfort and protection.

EL PASO. Here in Segundo Barrio, the city’s historic district, migrants flock to Sacred Heart Catholic Church in hopes of finding protection, perhaps even salvation.

In their view, US immigration policy is nebulous and in constant flux, and even President Joe Biden’s Sunday visit to El Paso on his way to the Mexico summit will not necessarily create much confidence.

Migrants near the church are trying to avoid US immigration authorities, who have detained migrants, mostly Venezuelans, in recent days.

From left: Venezuelan migrants Isabelle, Eluesca and Isneydis spend a day outside the Centro Pastoral Sagrado Corazon in El Paso with their two-year-old son Nehemias on Wednesday, December 21, 2022.(Lola Gomez / staff photographer)

This is not the first time and probably not the last. For this corner is forgotten. For those who are in limbo. Like Alejandro Infante, a 20-year-old who made a perilous crossing from Venezuela.

“We’re stuck here,” he said. “There is no way to return, at least voluntarily. There is no way to go forward. We’re somewhere in between.”

Infante is one of the dozens, if not hundreds, of migrants who roam the area daily. They are waiting for “that Christmas miracle,” he said, “that came and went with December.”

Border crisis rages, Biden’s first Sunday visit to El Paso blasted as long overdue

As expectations rise over the possible repeal of the pandemic-era health care order known as Section 42 on Dec. 21, many migrants, mostly from Venezuela, crossed the border without being processed by federal immigration authorities. They came too early.

Section 42 allowed U.S. border agents to deport migrants more than 2 million times, preventing them from applying for asylum on the grounds that it was done to be safe from the pandemic.

But the public health rule remains in legal limbo. In February, the Supreme Court will consider a proposal by leaders of conservative states, including Texas, to keep the rule in place. Judgment could take weeks or even months, lawyers said.

Since then, the number of migrants arriving in El Paso has fluctuated. City and county officials say their numbers have dwindled in recent weeks, so much so that makeshift shelters, including two former schools and a convention center, have closed.

Migrants wait outside the Centro Pastoral Sagrado Corazon for an overnight stay in El Paso...
Migrants wait outside the Centro Pastoral Sagrado Corazon for an overnight stay in El Paso on Monday, December 19, 2022. 120 people sleep in the center, giving preference to children, women and the elderly.(Lola Gomez / staff photographer)

On Saturday, ahead of Biden’s visit, dozens of El Paso residents marched several blocks from the Chihuahuita area to the Sacred Heart Catholic Church to show solidarity with the migrants. “You are not alone,” they chanted. Many migrants with tears in their eyes answered: “Grace”.

Among them was Infante. He and other migrants, mostly from Venezuela, hang around Sacred Heart Catholic Church hoping to find protection from border agents. “Most of them are sweet, warm-hearted, but we know we don’t have much time,” Infante said. “We all lack patience.”

He left Venezuela in June and headed for Colombia. By the time he got to Mexico City in October, he had received word that Venezuelans who were crossing the border en masse had been suddenly locked down under Section 42.

He stayed in Mexico and waited a little longer. In November, he learned that a federal judge had ordered Section 42 to be repealed by December 21st.

The Infante headed for the border and planned to arrive by that date. He arrived on Christmas Eve and stopped in Ciudad Juarez. And again he waited. He and other Venezuelans crossed the border on Christmas Day and have been waiting ever since.

Migrants spend the night outside at the Centro Pastoral Sagrado Corazon in El Paso.
Migrants sleep outside at the Centro Pastoral Sagrado Corazon in El Paso on Tuesday, December 20, 2022. U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts issued an “administrative stay”, temporarily upholding Section 42 of the pandemic-era policy. for the rapid expulsion of migrants at the border. Border guards expect an even greater influx of migrants at the border if and when Section 42 is lifted.(Lola Gomez / staff photographer)

Last week, the Biden administration said it would expand humanitarian travel to 30,000 people from Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti and Venezuela each month. But people from those four countries who cross the US-Mexico border illegally will be denied a significant expansion of existing efforts to stop Venezuelans trying to enter the US. Migrants can make asylum appointments at official border crossings through a mobile app called Checkpoint One.

Biden plan will create a legal route for some migrants, limit illegal border crossings

Upon learning of Biden’s plan on Thursday, Infante and another migrant, Darwin Hernandez, chatted and tried to process the news. They seemed bewildered. “There is no way back to Venezuela to apply on my phone,” Hernandez said. “I have four young people who are waiting for me to help them financially. Somehow I need to find a job, find a future.”

Infante agreed. During his journey, he spent over $3,000.

He sat silently as the bells of the Sacred Heart rang. He wanted to “see if there was any divine intervention” and reflected on his journey, “All we have to do is rely on luck, and some days it’s better than others.”

Supreme Court retains immigration restrictions for now

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