CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico—Juanita thought that by now she and her two daughters, 12 and 4, would be somewhere in Texas. It didn’t really matter where, but a place safe and far away from the men who killed her husband and threatened her children. Instead, by the time you read this, she and her daughters are on their way back towards the killings and threats.
Hundreds of families—mostly from Central America—are arriving at the border expecting to be welcomed into Joe Biden’s America only to be shocked by what they see as a betrayal and sent back to where they came from, according to migrants and shelter managers interviewed by The Daily Beast.
Around 100,000 people were either apprehended by Border Patrol or turned themselves in to officials along the U.S.-Mexico border in February alone, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
DHS statistics show that more than 9,000 unaccompanied minors and almost 20,000 family units, were taken into custody along the border last month. El Paso and Rio Grande Valley remain the busiest crossing points.
During the campaign, candidate Biden promised to sweep away some of President Donald Trump’s harshest border policies and implement a “humane” approach.
The reality of Biden's immigration policy is slowly becoming clear, and it’s not what thousands of vulnerable migrants expected, nor needed. In an interview with ABC News on Tuesday, Biden finally said it out loud in a message designed to discourage those who are desperate to escape their countries: “Don’t come over.”
Juanita spoke to The Daily Beast while she packed up two small backpacks to start her journey back to Guatemala. “We thought this president was going to be different to us, but it is more of the same,” she said. “I feel he lied to us.”
Juanita and her daughters left Guatemala early in February, fleeing the land where her husband was killed after a series of extortions, and driven by the hope of a new president who promised more humane immigration policies.
“We crossed the border from Piedras Negras and turned ourselves in to the Border Patrol,” said Juanita. “They had us for only a couple of days in a shelter and then told us they will take us to a bigger shelter in Houston with more capacity for families,” she said.
Instead, she and at least three other families were flown into El Paso only to be expelled within hours of landing on U.S. soil and sent to the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez.
“They didn’t say anything to us. Only asked us to jump into a bus and then asked us to start walking. I only understood we were being sent back to Mexico after reading a sign that said ‘Welcome to Mexico,’” she said.
No one was waiting for them on the Mexican side, as a proper deportation procedure demands. After being expelled from the U.S. they sat on a sidewalk and waited for hours without money, a cellphone, or knowing where they were.
“They took our phones and our money in the U.S., and we were left without anything,” said Juanita, breaking up in tears.
A woman who walked along the international bridge where Juanita and the other families were sitting helped them understand they were in Ciudad Juarez and walked them to Pan de Vida, one of the few local shelters with the capacity to take them in.
“They got here in bad shape,” said the shelter director, Ismael Martinez. “The woman was scared and very disappointed and one of her daughters had an old diaper soaking wet.”
Juanita and her kids are just one of the hundreds of families facing a new hurdle called Title 42, a federal order introduced by President Trump that fast-tracks deportations as a pandemic health measure.
“Title 42 is traumatizing families,” said Amy Cohen, director for Every Last One, a non-profit organization helping migrant families and children. “This policy is putting all of the migrant population at risk.”
According to Cohen, Juanita’s experience has become more and more common for migrants arriving at the border.
“I’ve received tons of calls from people in this same situation. Although it is still very confusing why some families are being allowed to stay within the United States and some are immediately sent back to Mexico,” she said.
Martinez, at the Pan de Vida shelter in Ciudad Juarez, said he currently holds 20 families who were expelled from the U.S. after crossing illegally from Mexico without any deportation process.
“This is very common lately. Here at the shelter, I have 60 people, 20 families in the same situation. All of them have kids under the age of 10, and all of them are from Central America,” he said.
Since the processing of migrants under MPP, a controversial Trump-era program, which sends asylum-seekers to Mexican cities to await hearings in American immigration courts, his shelter is now reaching capacity.
Marisa Limon, director for Border Hope Institute, a nonprofit organization advocating for social justice, said Title 42 is “specifically targeting Central Americans.”
“Title 42 was a Trump policy that stayed with us. This program is targeting specifically Central Americans and that’s making this situation more complex,” she said.
Limon said this policy is endangering migrants expelled back to Mexico where they are being kidnapped and extorted by criminals.
“Shelters are almost at capacity, and being a migrant today in Ciudad Juarez is very dangerous. Migrants in Mexico have a target on their back for those looking to abuse them,” she said.
Cohen said organized crime in Mexico preys on migrants as soon as they are on their turf.
"Organized crime lives off of migrants, and there is a big anti-immigrant community in Mexico making it even more dangerous for the families sent back,” she said.
Cohen said that Title 42 program is “even worse” than Trump’s controversial MPP.
“This is way worse than the MPP because, with MPP, Mexico had to shelter immigrants with the help of NGOs, but with Title 42 Mexico is not obligated to take responsibility for them,” she said.