11/02/2022 (Wed) 15:45
Border Dispatch, Part I: ‘Everyone Who Arrives Here Has Paid’
Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series. Part two will be published next week.
REYNOSA, Mexico — We met Osniel at Senda de Vida, a massive migrant shelter situated on the south bank of the Rio Grande across from McAllen, Texas. The slender 23-year-old Cuban didn’t give us his last name, but did tell us he’d paid a coyote, or smuggler, $11,000 to leave his home country, transit through Central America and Mexico, and cross the border into the United States — twice.
Both times he crossed, though, he’d been arrested by Border Patrol and quickly sent back to Mexico under Title 42, the pandemic health order that allows U.S. authorities to expel illegal immigrants quickly, with minimal processing. When Osniel left Cuba in early April, Title 42 didn’t apply to Cubans. But that changed while he was en route.
On April 27, the Biden administration cut a deal with Mexico to begin expelling up to 100 Cubans and 20 Nicaraguans a day from three border facilities. For Osniel, it was just bad timing — he crossed the river on April 29.
“Title 42 was active under Donald Trump, and all this time, all this time Cubans were crossing over the river and entering with a humanitarian visa,” Osniel told me and a pair of colleagues, Emily Jashinsky and David Agren, who accompanied me recently to migrant shelters in Reynosa and Matamoros. “Now, Cubans keep trying to cross the river and they keep getting sent back.”
He said he wasn’t sure what he was going to do now. Having tried to cross the border twice, he couldn’t try again without paying the local cartel, and he had no more money. (Nearly everyone who crosses the Rio Grande in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, where Reynosa is situated, has to pay a tax to the cartels, which have been profiting handsomely from the arrangement.)
Early the next morning, around 2 a.m., Osniel called David in a panic. He had swam across the river, he said, but hadn’t paid, and now feared he was being pursued by cartel gunmen. He said he was hiding on the north bank of the Rio Grande.
A GPS pin on WhatsApp showed he was just outside the town of Hidalgo, Texas, not far from the international bridge. He wanted David to call the police or Border Patrol to come pick him up before the cartel found him. David got ahold of the local police but they said it was Border Patrol’s responsibility, and no one picked up the phone at the McAllen Border Patrol station that night.
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