Frustrated by the failures of a U.S. government immigration app and a difficult existence on the streets of Juárez, hundreds of mostly Venezuelan migrants walked to the top of the Paso del Norte Bridge on Sunday to learn if a rumor about the border being temporarily opened was true.
Hundreds of migrants rushed through the toll booths on the Juárez side of the bridge and reached the top. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers implemented “port-hardening efforts,” including physical barriers at 1:30 p.m. to block migrants from entering the United States, spokesperson Roger Maier said.
The bridge, the northbound crossing linking the downtowns of El Paso and Juárez, began reopening at about 6 p.m. after migrants left. The protest also caused disruptions at the Stanton Street Bridge and the Bridge of the Americas, Maier said.
Vaneska, 23, has been in Juárez for three months with her partner, Kelvin, and their two children who are 5 and 2. She said they are seeking permission to enter the United States but have not been able to schedule an appointment through the government’s CBP One mobile application despite trying every day.
CBP One is the tool that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security introduced this year. Migrants from Venezuela, Haiti and Nicaragua are required to use the app in order to take part in a humanitarian parole program. Migrants have reported numerous challenges in trying to use the app.
When a false report began spreading on social media on Sunday, Vaneska and other frustrated migrants headed to the bridge.
“On Facebook, we saw an image that said they were going to open (the bridge) today because it was Migrants’ Day, something like that,” Vaneska said. “We just want an answer, so we came to see if it was true.”
Since arriving in Juárez, Vaneska and Kelvin have not been able to get a spot in a migrant shelter. They rent a room for themselves and their two children, which they pay for by selling candy in the street.
Many of the families waiting in the sun under the Mexican and American flags told similar stories: an application that doesn’t work, shelters that have no space, police that shake them down for the little money they earn through informal labor each day.
“We’re here trying to achieve our American dream and help our families back in Venezuela,” Angel, 24, said. He sat on the concrete marker at the international boundary with a squeegee in his hand. “We’re dying of hunger, since in our country human rights don’t exist.”
Angel has been supporting himself by washing car windshields for the last two months, since he reached Juárez. Venezuelan migrants in Juárez have not typically been authorized to work and are frequently harassed by police.
“We’ve been trying to use the application for three months,” Alián said, his hand resting on the shoulders of his 4-year-old son. His wife waited in the shade further down the bridge with their other two children.
“Every day we try (the application), and nothing. When we have money, we rent a place to sleep. When we don’t, we sleep on the street,” he said.
Customs and Border Protection closed the Paso del Norte Bridge to vehicular traffic and to pedestrian traffic from both directions. Dozens of agents carrying riot shields waited behind barricades and barbed wire. Personnel from the Texas Department of Public Safety also took up positions alongside CBP officers. Some CBP officers wore gas masks.
It is not the first time that rumors of a border opening provoke mass attempts at bridge or river crossings. In November, for example, about 800 migrants crossed the Rio Grande after rumors that Title 42 had been lifted spread through the Venezuelan camp on the south bank of the river.
Such rumors are often spread through social media networks and word of mouth among migrants.
Government officials and migrant advocates say the rumors sometimes are tactics by organized crime to disrupt authorized processes and prompt more migrants to pay exorbitant fees to cartels to cross the border illegally.