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Trapped in Mexico, asylum-seekers watch with hope that Biden will let them enter US

Kate Morrissey, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in News & Features

Tijuana's El Chaparral plaza, where the western pedestrian route between San Diego and its southern neighbor merges in a cluster of businesses and transportation hubs, once bustled with activity at 7 a.m. on a Monday. Street vendors would sell breakfast and local newspapers to workers heading north for their shifts.

There, too, each morning, asylum-seekers from across the globe would gather to wait for their numbers to be called from a notebook to begin the process of requesting protection. Others would queue to be taken temporarily across the border to their court hearings.

Today the throngs of people are gone, chased away by a pandemic and U.S. government policy hostile to asylum-seekers.

But with President Joe Biden now in the White House, hope is growing in Tijuana.

With it comes an urgent pressure from asylum-seekers that Biden keep his campaign promises and begin allowing them into the United States.

Thousands of asylum-seekers have been stuck in the border city for months, and in some cases years, because of restrictive policies from the Trump administration.


Some were returned to Tijuana through the "Remain in Mexico" program, which requires them to wait south of the border while their U.S. immigration court cases progress. Those cases have been paused since the pandemic began.

Others signed up on a de facto wait list in a notebook managed by migrants and Mexican immigration officials because of a policy called "metering" that restricts how many asylum-seekers U.S. ports of entry will process each day. Still others haven't even been able to sign up for a place in line because the notebook has been shut down since a pandemic order stopped asylum processing altogether.

"We have hope that this new government that is Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will bring us help and support to keep going forward," said an asylum-seeker from Guatemala who asked not to be identified because of dangers he is still facing. "The previous government left us abandoned here."

Last week El Chaparral plaza in Tijuana was quiet and empty, except for a couple of taxi drivers and one family from Guerrero, a state in Mexico, who had just arrived in Tijuana to seek help and were huddled together under a blanket.


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