Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico – “No, it’s no different today,” Jerson said as he looked over the gaps in the Mexican border wall Friday morning.
For days, it was the same: Hundreds of people from countries including Haiti, Colombia, Brazil, Turkey and Afghanistan were stranded between two high walls that cut through the land.
Across a wall is Tijuana, Mexico. And on the other side is the district of San Ysidro, part of the city of San Diego in the United States.
On May 9, Jerson, a 36-year-old Colombian, and his 16-year-old son Bryan climbed over the side of Mexico, landing on a narrow strip of US soil. From then on, they spent three cold nights sleeping on the ground under thin tarpaulins. And now they wait, hoping the US Border Patrol will process their asylum claims.
That’s the limbo many asylum seekers face at the US southern border, now that the controversial Title 42 migrant deportation policy has ended — and the uncertainty it has brought.
Through the slits in the wall, a small but vibrant economy has developed: Migrants and asylum seekers pass money on one side, and food delivery workers respond with chicken meals and coffee. .
Jerson, speaking in Spanish and withholding his last name for safety reasons, explained that he had received water but no food from the US Border Patrol that morning. As he spoke, a Border Patrol vehicle drove by, taking in the scene.
But Jerson felt that he could not leave the narrow alley between the two walls. At home in Colombia, he said he received threats from gangs. After taking four different flights to get to Tijuana, he found himself frustrated with the CBP One app, a mobile platform created by US Customs and Border Protection for asylum seekers to schedule immigration appointment.
“Error, error, error,” Jerson remembers reading the app. “It didn’t accept my passport photo.”
So he and his son waited, sandwiched between two walls, hoping for a chance to be reunited with their family in New York, where Bryan’s mother and two older brothers live. But that requires navigating a new system of border policies, one that lasts less than 24 hours.
Called in 2020 under then-President Donald Trump, Title 42 allows the US to deport asylum seekers without processing their claims, citing public health concerns.
But when the US ended its declaration of emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic on Thursday, Title 42 ended with it.
At midnight US Eastern time (04:00 GMT), when the policy expired, the US implemented a carrot-and-stick approach on its southern border with Mexico. It opens new legal channels for migration but also implements policies where irregular border crossings can result in a five-year re-entry ban and possible criminal prosecution.
It also announced new immigration processing centers in Colombia and Guatemala to screen people for asylum and immigration eligibility away from the US border.
In addition, the new rules limit asylum claims from individuals who transit through other countries to reach the US. Similar to the “safe third country” rule under Trump, the policy requires asylum seekers to file for refugee status and be rejected by other countries before they are eligible to apply to the U.S. .
On Thursday, before the order took effect, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in a federal court in California to block it, saying that President Joe Biden’s administration was “doubling down” on the “brutal” measures. Trump’s asylum ban.
The United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees has previously urged Biden to reconsider its regulations because key elements of the rule are inconsistent with international refugee law.
“The Refugee Convention recognizes that refugees may be forced to enter a country of asylum irregularly,” the agency said. It added that the regulation would lead to cases where people are forced to return to dangerous conditions – a practice prohibited under international law.
‘It’s going to be a deportation mill’
In Tijuana, people who want to claim asylum have difficulty accessing legal channels, explained Erika Pinheiro, executive director of Al Otro Lado, an organization that provides legal and humanitarian support for refugees in Tijuana and US.
Many asylum seekers feel frustrated because they cannot get an appointment through the CBP One app. Al Otro Lado told migrants and asylum seekers that there are “at least a few chances” for people to present themselves at US ports of entry. However, US Customs and Border Patrol will direct most of their resources to people with CBP One appointments.
Those who cross a port of entry will have a “credible fear” interview – to check claims of violence and persecution – within 72 hours of detention, Pinheiro explained.
If an asylum seeker cannot prove they have a legal basis for refugee status in the US, Pinheiro continued, they will be subject to expedited removal procedures. He fears that asylum seekers have limited access to legal advice in this process.
“It’s going to be a deportation mill because I don’t see how individuals can meaningfully participate in the legal process while remaining in those conditions, especially if they expect to do so within 72 hours of crossing the border,” he said.
“Even if you have better access to U.S. soil, that doesn’t mean you can access protection,” Pinheiro said of the post-Title 42 system.
‘De-facto detention facility’
Standing on the San Ysidro side of the border on Wednesday, Pedro Rios and volunteers with the American Friends Service Committee handed out bottled water and food to people through the wall.
“The border patrol will give them water three times a day and two granola bars, one in the morning and one at night,” he said. “And that’s all they get.”
He said that the land between the walls “has become a de-facto detention facility”.
When migrants are detained, Customs and Border Protection has standards known as “Transport, Escort, Detention and Search” (TEDS) that govern how Border Patrol agents treat people in short-term custody. They have to provide food and do welfare checks.
However, a 2022 report by the US Government Accountability Office found that there is no oversight mechanism to ensure that the agency is following these standards.
After frequent visits to the wall in recent weeks, Rios believes CBP is not following standards. The standards say they have to process people immediately, but he spoke to a group of people from India who said they were waiting up to five days between the two walls to be processed.
Several young women from Brazil told Al Jazeera that they had been waiting between the walls for four or five days.
Although he was sore and tired after sleeping on the ground, Jerson, the Colombian father, remained patient. He, like many asylum seekers at the border, has faith that the system can still work in their favor.
But the lines are long. And the barriers to entry are high. And for Jerson and his son, that means the future is up in the air.