By Veronica Martinez and Gabriela Minjares/La Verdad

CIUDAD Juárez, MEXICO – A new immigration plan aimed at reducing the number of people who seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border has sparked concern in Juárez, where thousands of migrants remain in overcrowded shelters and on streets waiting for an opportunity to enter the neighboring country through El Paso.

President Biden, who will visit El Paso on Sunday, said he will extend the temporary stay program for Venezuelans with a sponsor in the United States and will expand the program to migrants from Cuba, Nicaragua and Haiti. One of the conditions is that migrants apply for asylum from their home countries and do not cross the border illegally. In addition, he announced that Mexico agreed to accept up to 30,000 migrants monthly as part of the Title 42 expulsion program.

While the program seeks to reduce the record influx of migrants at the Southwest border and into communities such as El Paso, it leaves many migrants stranded in Mexican cities such as Juárez.

Red Somos Uno por Juárez, a network of shelters operated by government agencies and religious organizations, has reported that its shelters are at capacity and supplies to assist the migrants are running out.

In late December, Juárez Mayor Cruz Pérez Cuéllar said that the city had a record 20,000 migrants stranded in the city.

On Friday, the first day of the new immigration plan, Juárez received 100 migrants returned from El Paso who had unlawfully crossed the border. According to Mexican immigration authorities, all are Venezuelan nationals although it is expected that migrants from Cuba, Nicaragua or Haiti who are also subject to expulsion under the new program will also be received starting Saturday.

Despite this, some Mexican leaders said they welcomed Biden’s plan, which Secretary of Foreign Relations for North America Roberto Velasco Álvarez in a tweet said would allow for the expansion of the migrant workforce, “a request that the Mexican government has made permanently to achieve orderly, safe, regular, and humane migration in the region.” 

Others aren’t so fast to applaud the move.

A researcher of the Interdisciplinary Group on Migration Issues, Rodolfo Rubio, questioned the way the expedited expulsions will be carried out and what will happen when the limit of 30,000 migrants per month is reached. He said that while some people will be discouraged from coming to the border, migratory flows will continue to be driven by the possible end of Title 42.

“They are people who do not meet the requirements and who are in a very difficult condition in their country of origin. What about those people who are in that situation? The United States does not have the capacity to manage their asylum applications,” he said.

The program announced by the Department of Homeland Security is similar to the temporary protected status program implemented for people from Venezuela.

However, the implementation of the latter, in mid-October, created a crisis in Juárez, where migrants set up makeshift encampments and spent the night on the streets.

In Juárez, thousands remain waiting

Wilman, a Venezuelan migrant, received a humanitarian aid package from the Human Mobility program at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe in downtown. It included a blanket, toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, lotion and shampoo.

Wearing several layers of clothing, Wilman appeared dressed to withstand the low winter temperatures – except for the sandals on his feet. He hoped to find men’s shoes in his size among donations at the church.

Like many migrants in the city, Wilman is waiting for Title 42 to be lifted.

“I want to cross, but in the meantime, I am going to wait. We all want to cross but also become legal and not break any laws,” Wilman said.

The cathedral has become a space where migrants can rest and receive a hot meal at no cost. Over the last few weeks, the cathedral has seen up to 400 people a day, Human Mobility Office Coordinator Cristina Coronado said. 

The flow of people varies: On Jan. 2, there were about 100 people at the church; and about 200 on Tuesday.

“We have a very high number of people who were expelled between Dec. 22 and 30, and people who have already crossed three times and have been expelled,” Coronado said. “Many people are already considering staying in Mexico after having tried to cross several times and failed.”

Among them are growing numbers of Central American families and single women traveling with their children, Coronado said. 

Migrants carrying backpacks, blankets, and sleeping bags can often be seen walking around in downtown Juárez, and those who cannot find shelters or rent a room for the night are sleeping on the streets near the Rio Grande.

Rosario, 20, has traveled from Venezuela to Mexico over the past four months with her partner, cousin and 1-year-old daughter. Some days, they have stayed in shelters in the city. But most shelters only allow migrants to stay for three days to accommodate new arrivals to the city.

“In the street, we have been able to get some people to help us. In the last few days, we have managed to pay for a room, but today we don’t have money. We’ll have to see where we go, but we are stranded here,” she said.

Miguel González, director of the Pasos de Fe shelter and vice president of the Somos Uno shelter network in Juárez, said city shelters are between 90% to 100% capacity – but aren’t necessarily housing migrants from outside Mexico alone.

González said that the vast majority of people at city shelters are Mexicans displaced by violence. He said that about 40% have been in the city for three to four months and the rest have arrived in Juárez in recent weeks.

“For those of us who run shelters, the situation continues as normal with this matter that Title 42 is withdrawn or that it remains indefinitely,” González said.

While Rosario has considered staying in Mexico, she is still waiting to see a change in immigration policy and holds out hope of being able to cross into the United States.

“Either we return to our country or we cross – or we find a way to stay here in Mexico,” Rosario said. “But really, in Mexico we don’t feel very safe and job opportunities are few for migrants.”

This story was produced as part of the Puente News Collaborative, a binational partnership of news organizations in Ciudad Juárez and El Paso.