MCALLEN, TEXAS — After a cop took Claudia to a field, grabbed her by the throat and threatened to kill her and her 7-year-old son Kevin this spring, it didn’t take long for the 26-year-old single mother to decide it was time to get out of El Salvador.
What happened next illustrates why so few Central American migrants enter the country the so-called “right way” — at the international bridges, or ports of entry, where migrants can request asylum without crossing the border illegally.
Claudia said she quickly called a friend who knew a smuggler.
“She told me that’s what he did, that he was good — that he was responsible,” she said. The man told her he could do it for $5,000. But she would have to do it his way.
“He said, ‘I do it but only with one method.’ They only will take you across the river in a raft, and on the other side you walk,” she recalled. “I asked him, ‘Why don’t you do it [at the bridge], and he said they don’t do it there because sometimes they get sent back.”
Every month, thousands of asylum-seeking families cross the Rio Grande and turn themselves in to Border Patrol rather than line up at a port of entry. Since October, more than 40,000 family members traveling together have presented themselves at the ports of entry without proper documentation; nearly twice that many have crossed into the country illegally over the same time period. (Neither U.S. Customs and Border Protection nor U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services could say how many of the migrants who arrived at ports of entry requested asylum.)
The Trump administration sought to curb illegal crossings by imposing a “zero-tolerance” crackdown at the border this summer that left more than 2,500 children, including Claudia’s son, separated from their parents.
“If you are seeking asylum for your family, there is no reason to break the law and illegally cross between ports of entry,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen declared on Twitter at the height of the family separation crisis in June.
But that message ignored the deep-rooted factors — from smuggling practices to the complexities of U.S. immigration law — that drive Central American asylum-seekers to the river, despite the risks of a clandestine crossing.
Asylum-seekers like Claudia start on the path to an illegal crossing long before they actually reach the banks of the Rio Grande, relying on guidance from an informal …read more
Source:: Time – World