PROSPECT PARK — With nonessential travel set to resume at the U.S.-Mexico border in November, a Catholic priest in Tijuana, the Mexico border city to San Diego, fears an influx of misinformed migrants arriving at the border is imminent.
Father Pat Murphy, the director of Casa del Migrante Tijuana — a non-profit group that assists migrants — said migrants have already called stating their intentions to come.
“I don’t think people realize the confusion has already started as we have had a lot more calls about ‘is it true that asylum will open up in November?’ and people traveling sending us Facebook messages,” Father Murphy said. “I imagine a lot of people will come to the border thinking everything’s open because people only hear open borders and don’t pay attention to the rest.”
President Joe Biden’s administration announced the nation’s borders with Mexico and Canada would reopen in November for nonessential travel last week. The move only applies to travelers that are fully vaccinated. The current pandemic restrictions have been in place since March 2020.
Confusion over the Biden administration’s border policies led to an unprecedented crisis in Del Rio, Texas, at the end of September that saw 30,000 mostly Haitian migrants pass through the border city over a two-week span, and 15,000 underneath the city’s international bridge at one time. The situation overwhelmed local, state, and government authorities.
The main factor in the migrants’ decision to flock to the border was a misguided belief that they would be granted Temporary Protected Status after the Biden administration had recently extended such protections for more than 100,000 Haitians already living in the United States.
Father Murphy said he believes the reopening of the borders could have a similar effect.
“Anything to do with travel being open, it’s just a false hope that people are going to say, ‘oh, we can cross now.’ They’re going to get here and they’re going to find out there is no asylum,” Murphy told The Tablet. “Unfortunately, when people are so desperate they only hear part of the story and they’re just looking for any sign of hope.”
A record number of undocumented migrants crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in Fiscal Year 2021, with the Biden administration’s rhetoric, the COVID-19 pandemic, and turmoil in Central and South American countries all bearing some responsibility for the influx.
From October 2020-August 2021 (FY2021), U.S. Customs Border and Protection (CBP) encountered over 1.5 million undocumented immigrants, compared to about 458,000 (FY2020) the previous year and about 977,500 (FY2019), CBP data shows.
CBP saw had the most encounters of FY2021 in July and August, with 213,534 and 208,887 respectively. The figure for July was a 21-year high. The data also notes that 25% of the encounters in August were repeat crossers, compared to a re-encounter rate of 14% for Fiscal Years 2014-2019.
The CBP data released on Sept. 15 notes that there were a “larger-than-usual number of migrants making multiple border crossing attempts” during FY2021 because of the large number of expulsions, which inflated the total number of encounters.
Father Murphy anticipates the resumption of nonessential travel will have other negative effects on Mexico border communities that would coincide with an influx of migrants. One, he said, is smugglers will take full advantage of desperate migrants.
“It will make the coyotes happy because they’ll have more people to steal from,” Father Murphy said. “People are desperate. They’re going to pay exorbitant fees, anything to give them a little sense of reality to their hope.”
He added that when there’s an influx, the border communities “become a haven of economic opportunity for the traffickers and organized crime,” that “will be delighted to have all of these new clients.”
None of this is to say, however, that nonessential travel shouldn’t have resumed. Father Murphy said the 19-month closure ravaged businesses. He said he knows of a number of stores that have closed because they couldn’t sustain the economic losses.
“I think there will be a huge impact on Tijuana,” Father Murphy said.