Coronavirus creates additional challenges for migrants at US/Mexico border

Maria Russell, 62, wearing a face shield to protect against the coronavirus, waits to re-enter the United States after donating groceries at a camp for asylum seekers on the Mexican side of the border on February 22, 2021 in Matamoros, Mexico. At the same international bridge U.S. immigration authorities have begun allowing some asylum seekers with active cases into the U.S. in a reversal of the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” immigration policy.

Migrants walk on train tracks on their journey from Central America to the U.S. border., in Palenque, Chiapas state, Mexico, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021. President Joe Biden’s administration has taken steps toward rolling back some of the harshest policies of ex-President Donald Trump, but a policy remains allowing U.S. border officials to immediately send back almost anyone due to the new coronavirus pandemic.

Border patrol agent Richard Barragan apprehends a Cuban national between containers at a landfill lot Monday, Jan. 25, in Sunland Park, N.M.

Members of the Mexican Army stand on the other side of the border fence Monday, Jan. 25, in Sunland Park, N.M.

Maira Sanchez, on left, and Antonia Castillo, wearing stripes, stand outside the Kino Border Initiative’s migrant aid center. The two Honduran women have remained in Nogales, Sonora since January under the Migrant Protection Protocols. They are rooming with two other women and their children as they wait for updates on the resumption of asylum hearings at the border.

Migrants read a handout about new immigration law while the Migrant Protection Protocols expanded to Nogales, Sonora in early January. One month later, it remains tough to gauge is full impact on this border city as apprehensions continue dropping, but asylum seekers continue arriving.

Alejandra Ramirez, 21, and her 8-month-old son sharing a rental apartment with other women in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, for their safety while they wait for the Migrant Protection Protocols to be expanded to Nogales, Sonora in early January.

The Migrant Protection Protocols expanded to Nogales, Sonora in early January. One month later, it remains tough to gauge is full impact on this border city as apprehensions continue dropping, but asylum seekers continue arriving. Local volunteers Pancho Olachea Martin helps migrants with medical needs and sleeping mattress since most of them have nothing beside their few clothes.

Originally, asylum seekers under “Remain in Mexico” were expected to attend their court hearings in U.S. border cities several weeks after they were sent back across the border. Ramirez, Castillo and Sanchez traveled 340 miles to Ciudad Juarez for their first hearing in April, just as COVID-19 cases began to surge on both sides of the border.

The Mexican border city of Mexicali sets up a “sanitary filter” for U.S. nationals coming into Mexico on Dec. 18, 2020, as part of an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the border communities in the Imperial County region in the U.S. and Baja California, Mexico.

A municipal police officer for the Mexican border city of Mexicali mans a “sanitary filter” for U.S. nationals coming into Mexico on Dec. 18, 2020, as part of an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the border communities in the Imperial County region in the U.S. and Baja California, Mexico.

A Border Patrol agent secures captured migrants who crossed the border near Anapra in Sunland Park, New Mexico, on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020. A Blackhawk helicopter and agents with dogs located them in thick desert brush near the border fence. The number of apprehensions and encounters has risen steadily in the U.S. Border Patrol, El Paso Sector each month since April, from 1,759 apprehensions or encounters to 6,517 in August, the latest month for which data is available. Due to a COVID-19 policy that prohibits detaining most migrants, the Border Patrol has been counting “encounters” with migrants, who are promptly returned to Mexico.

The number of apprehensions and “encounters” has risen steadily in the U.S. Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector each month since April, from 1,759 apprehensions or encounters to 6,517 in August, the latest month for which data is available. Due to a COVID-19 policy that prohibits detaining most migrants, Border Patrol has been counting “encounters” with migrants, who are promptly returned to Mexico.

A group of about 60 migrants from Mexico and Latin America rallied in Nogales, Sonora on Sept. 21, 2020 to ask the U.S. government to resume asylum processing at the border.

Geovel Samá from Cuba was returned to Nogales, Sonora in July under the Migrant Protection Protocols. With asylum processing frozen because of the pandemic, he said he will remain in Nogales until court hearings resume.

Border town Nogales, Arizona, is in complete lockdown due to an increase in coronavirus positive tests on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border. Santa Cruz County has the highest poverty rates in southern Arizona. Since the pandemic, thousands of residents have turned to the region’s food bank for help.

Cars head south to Tijuana, Mexico at the San Ysidro port of entry on March 22, 2020 in San Diego. Non-essential travel is restricted in an effort to control the COVID-19 pandemic.

A woman wearing a mask heads to the Tijuana, Mexico crossing by foot at the San Ysidro port of entry on March 22, 2020 in San Diego. Non-essential travel is restricted in an effort to control the COVID-19 pandemic.

A man enters Mexicali, Mexico from Calexico, California at the West Calexico Port of Entry on March 20, 2020 as President Trump announced the intention to close the border only to “essential” entry starting at 12:00 hours on March 21, 2020.

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