The protest involved hundreds of Cubans protest in Ciudad Juarez
By Rocio Gallegos, Photos: Rey R. Jauregui (LA VERDAD)
HAVANA TIMES – In an attempt to cross over onto US soil, Cuban migrants crowded together at the bulge of the Paso del Norte international bridge, at the exact point where Mexican and US borders meet, on Tuesday night.
“Let us in, let us in” shouted the men and women in unison. The Trump administration forced to wait out their asylum application process on Mexican soil, under the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program. Some of them even went with their small children, holding onto their hands.
“We have waited long enough, we are in a critical situation,” a man said who identified himself as Walter. He said that he had been waiting at this border city for a year and seven months. He must continue to wait for his political asylum paperwork to come through. The US’ Immigration Courts remain closed and there is still no news of when they will reopen.
There were over 150 migrants alongside him, who managed to jump over the pedestrian access toll barriers on the international bridge, so they could get closer to where the US begins. A similar number of people remained at the entry point for vehicles on this crossing that links with El Paso, Texas.
Some of the Cubans said they were looking for a way to get into the US because they fear for their safety in Juarez. Some even reported acts of aggression and blackmail from municipal police officers: “they take our money.” Others said that they went to the bridge because they got a notification on social media and by email. It said the US government was going to let them pass.
However, the migrants found the complete opposite. They ran into a closed bridge and a column of armed officers from US Customs and Border Protection, as well as El Paso police officers. There were stationed at the bridge to stop migrants from forcing their way onto US soil.
Mexican authorities reported that vehicle and pedestrian access on this international bridge was suspended around 20:30, when Cubans invaded it.
“The migrants were deceived, by somebody irresponsible who made them come here,” said Enrique Valenzuela, the director of the Chihuahua State Population Council, which is responsible for assisting migrants.
Valenzuela went to the bridge to talk to the foreigners. He informed them that the message they received was a lie and asked them to leave the bridge because of cold temperatures, which were dropping fast as night fell. Likewise, because of the risks of crowding together during the COVID-19 pandemic. He also offered to follow up on their accusations of municipal police violence and blackmail.
The migrants didn’t budge. Due to their presence on the bridge, US authorities blocked all lanes of traffic, both for vehicles and pedestrians, with concrete blocks and barbed wire.
They also put up a loudspeaker and transmitted a message in English and Spanish. It warned the migrants they were in a federal zone and that if they crossed, force would be used. Moreover, they would be arrested and processed.
On the Mexican side, municipal police officers circled the bridge and kept them under surveillance.
“We are willing to stay here, to spend New Years here even, to demand they let us in,” shouted Laura, a Cuban woman who was in the first ranks of the migrant column crowded together on the pedestrian south-north path.
Migrants being processed under the MPP Program, known as “Remain in Mexico”, said that they are living in precarious living conditions, have no jobs or lack of a steady income, and are being neglected in a dangerous situation in which their human rights are being violated.
Raul Pino Gonzalez, a migrant from Havana who went to the bridge with his wife, mother-in-law and two children – 8 and 9 years old – said: “we are turning up humanitarian pressure a little so that they know we are lots of migrants waiting here and to see what happens.”
In Mexico ever since December 18, 2019, the man said that US-Mexico immigration policies need to change. “They need to reach an agreement because they are violating due process for migrants applying for political asylum.”
“Losing faith is the last thing and even if we don’t get political asylum. They should let us pass, we are calling out to Mexico and the US. And to Biden, the new US president, to remind him of the presidential campaign promises he made. To make him aware we are here,” he said.
One of Biden’s electoral campaign pledges was to reverse Trump’s immigration policy and cancel the MPP program. [However, Biden doesn’t even take office until January 20th. Analysts also note that Cuba and Cuban migrants are not the first thing on his crowded agenda.]
Some migrants only began to leave around 22:30. The following morning, Mexican authorities working on the bridge reported the migrants left and its lanes were reopened.
(With information also provided by Gabriela Minjáres)