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By Miguel Silerio / Yo Ciudadano
Ciudad Juárez — After hundreds of migrants demonstrated at the Paso del Norte international bridge and tried to cross into El Paso on Sunday, Juárez Mayor Cruz Pérez Cuéllar said the city will harden its position against the migrants who are stranded in the border city.
“We have arrived at a crucial point in time to put a stop to this before we reach a breaking point,” Pérez Cuéllar said during his weekly press conference on Monday. He said the migrants are impacting the economies of Juárez and El Paso and Las Cruces due to actions like the one seen on Sunday, calling the protest “totally unrelated to the border reality.”
The mayor also asked Juárez residents not to give money to migrants who are on the city’s streets, saying many don’t want to work because they get more money from panhandling on the streets.
“The truth is that our patience level is running low,” the mayor said. “It must also be said that areas such as the (international) bridge are federal and there we have restrictions on actions we can take. That is to say, we do not have the powers to enter the bridges and some federal zones where there were this type of problems. However we do have the obligation to take care of the city.”
The mayor was set to meet with a group of stakeholders on Wednesday to address the situation, though he didn’t specify which ones or provide any details of the meeting.
Pérez Cuéllar said that there have been “some complaints” about migrant men who ask for donations on the streets. In that regard, the Secretary of Public Security César Omar Muñoz Morales said that it is primarily women who travel alone who “feel intimidated by migrants.” He said the municipal government will launch a campaign focused on migrants and sexual harassment but didn’t provide details.
“If people break the law, they will be punished, even if they are migrants,” he said.
Muñoz Morales said that a surveillance operation is ongoing at international bridges so that demonstrations are not repeated, but didn’t provide further details.
On Sunday, additional U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents were deployed to the Paso del Norte bridge where barriers had to be temporarily erected to hold back the migrants, closing down the port of entry for a few hours. The barriers were removed and the bridge reopened hours later. The protests also caused disruptions at the Stanton Street Bridge and the Bridge of the Americas.
Roger Maier, a CBP spokesman, on Tuesday said the agency is in close communications with its partners in the Mexican government to “maintain a constant state of readiness to keep our facilities, workforce and the traveling public secure while facilitating lawful trade and travel.”
Tensions on the rise
Tensions between the municipal government of Juárez and migrants have been boiling over since November, when municipal and state police, along with members of the Mexican National Guard, evicted some 500 migrants from an encampment at the bank of the Rio Grande. The vast majority were Venezuelans who had arrived at the border in anticipation of Title 42 being lifted in December and were awaiting an opportunity to request asylum in the United States at the El Paso border.
The municipal government said tearing down the encampment was necessary due to a fire risk as migrants made bonfires to protect themselves from the cold. Municipal police offered to take migrants to shelters, but many didn’t trust the officials and declined help. The dismantling of the encampment led to a confrontation.
On March 1, municipal police burst into a migrant dining room at the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe in downtown Juárez. Three Venezuelan migrants were arrested, including a woman and a teenager. El Diario de Juárez reported that the detainees alleged they had been physically and psychologically tortured for more than seven hours at police facilities.
On March 8, agents from Mexico’s National Institute of Migration carried out an immigration control operation at the Hotel Úrsula near the city’s downtown. A woman was violently detained, triggering a confrontation between dozens of migrants and migration institute agents, municipal police, the National Guard and Mexican Army.
Human rights groups denounce actions
Several civic organizations that work with migrants and human rights groups in a public statement denounced the criminalization of migrants, refugees, displaced persons and asylum seekers in Juárez.
The organizations point to an increase in abuse during immigration control operations in the downtown area of the city, such as arbitrary arrests, extortion, destruction of documentation and theft that “make it clear that there is a serious crisis in terms of human rights that must be urgently addressed by all authorities.”
The groups in a statement urged the municipal government to commit to “investigate promptly, impartially, independently, exhaustively and with a gender perspective” the various attacks against migrants and not to make speeches “criminalizing migrants, and instead issue strong public messages to your employees that all human rights violations will be seriously investigated and punished.”
El Paso Matters assistant editor/border reporter Cindy Ramirez contributed to this report.