NAnother two or three wobbly steps over the rocks, then they made it. Across the Rio Grande, a hop of relief follows. The young people pat each other on the back. A smile radiates from the exhausted faces of the two women and their six male companions. Then a woman pulls out her mobile phone. Her friends gather behind her: click, the first selfie on American soil.
A Border Patrol officer watches calmly as the small group crosses the border river. He’s more of a creek that day. At this time of year it only carries water because there was a storm in El Paso the day before. The officer waves to the young people and points to a spot where the ascent from the shore is easiest. They wave back and signal that they have understood the message. Once at the top, pronounce the key word: “Asyl”. Unasked, one adds: “Venezuela”. The officer nods politely and points to the queue under a bridge for the migrants to join. Here, on a railroad property, the Border Patrol, the armed police force within US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), opened a registry in August. 1,500 to 2,000 migrants have been arriving in El Paso in west Texas every day since the summer, the largest group from Venezuela. They are mostly young men.
The Mexicans let migrants through
It’s a new migration crisis in the United States. In addition to Mexicans, the Trump years were mainly migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. They were families fleeing poverty and gang crime. Many unaccompanied minors were also sent on the dangerous path by their parents. A second wave came in the summer. In El Paso and at other crossings it is mainly Venezuelans who cross the border, but also Cubans and Nicaraguans. They know that the Mexican National Guard will let them through and that the American authorities will not immediately deport them.
Because relations with the governments in Caracas, Havana and Managua are difficult, they have so far been allowed to stay in the country for the duration of their asylum procedure, unlike migrants from other Central and South American countries. They don’t come this way, under the eyes of the border authorities, but try their luck a few miles further west at Mount Christo Rey. The border police there are busy tracking down the irregular migrants. Those who are taken into custody are immediately deported.
The eight young people from Venezuela have had grueling weeks behind them, during which they not only crossed the Chihuahuan desert on foot, but also the “Darién Gap”, a hundred-kilometer strip that runs along the border between Colombia and Panama in South and Central America connects. It is called “Gap” because it is a jungle through which no road leads. They left 30 days ago, they say. Others are on the road for two months.
More than six million Venezuelans have left their country, run down by the Maduro regime, since 2015 and found refuge in neighboring countries, many in Colombia and Ecuador. They stayed there at first. The situation changed with the pandemic. A fresh start in South America seemed impossible to many, so they headed north. 155,000 came to America in the past eleven months alone.