Migrants, Recently Arrived in US, Grapple With Immigration Barriers

Rosa, a Venezuelan asylum-seeker, walked for four months across nearly half a continent. She was pregnant.

Rosa is not her real name, but she told VOA that her journey to reach the United States, along with her partner and father of her child, was difficult. Four times during their migration, Rosa thought she was going to lose her baby.

The couple traversed the uninhabitable Darien Gap jungle linking Colombia and Panama before crossing nine countries to face a complex immigration process in the United States.

“Everyone thinks that once you arrive in this country, you will see buildings like the ones in New York City,” Rosa told a VOA reporter who met with her in Washington, D.C., and the eastern state of Delaware.

But since the 19-year-old Venezuelan migrant arrived in Washington on one of the first 120 buses sent by Texas Republican Governor Gregg Abbott, she said her feelings changed.

“Yes, I regret having come to the United States,” Rosa said in Spanish.

Abbott launched the program in April to protest Democratic President Joe Biden’s approach on immigration, chartering buses to send recently arrived migrants from the southern border to the U.S. capital. Arizona Republican Governor Doug Ducey followed suit in May.

At the D.C. bus station, Rosa told VOA about her plans.

“Work, start fulfilling my dreams, my goals that I have here,” she said.

Now living in Delaware, Rosa is in the late stages of pregnancy. Her partner, who is also from Venezuela and did not want to be identified, also said the United States isn’t what he thought.

Rosa and her partner are required to check in weekly with U.S. immigration officials through a smartphone application. They hope to apply for asylum. In the meantime, they await the birth of their daughter.

“One thing is me telling this story, which is very different from living it,” Rosa said of not knowing if they can stay in the U.S. “Many people don’t understand because they think this is the American dream. But it’s a dream that, in reality, if something were to happen to me here, this dream was not worth it.”

According to border officials, 207,416 people tried to cross the Southwest border in June, a 14% drop from May. Of those, 92,274 people were immediately expelled from the United States under a public health order named Title 42.

Disinformation plays a role

Immigration experts say disinformation is crucial in encouraging unauthorized migration.

At the U.S.-Mexico border, immigration experts say some migrants cross into the U.S. without authorization and then wait for border officers; others present themselves at a U.S. port of entry and ask for help.

Immigration attorney Miriam Osorio says many have false expectations. Upon arriving at the border, he told VOA, they believe officials “are going to let me in … I am going to have a work permit, I am going to have benefits and I am going to start living peacefully in the United States.

“That’s not so true,” he said.

Luis Paoli, who has worked for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency as deputy chief counsel, says migrants allowed into the country receive a U.S. government document, but it doesn’t grant legal status.

Paoli says the document, known as a notice to appear, gives migrants 30 days to check in with U.S. immigration authorities once they arrive at their final destination in the United States.

“And if the person doesn’t show up, then the judge can issue a deportation order in absentia,” he said.

U.S. law offers asylum to people facing persecution in their home countries on the basis of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular group.

Though there are two kinds of asylum, affirmative and defensive, not all asylum claims come from migrants arriving at the border. Immigrants may claim affirmative asylum within one year of their last arrival in the United States or request a defensive asylum while fighting an order of deportation.

According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), immigration courts have a backlog of 1.6 million cases of asylum and other immigration applications. The wait time for a hearing on an immigrant’s asylum claim is about five years.

More resources needed

As migrants continue to arrive in Washington from Texas- and Arizona-chartered buses, a recently arrived Colombian asylum-seeker shared his story of the barriers he faced after he crossed the U.S.-Mexico border.

Luis Huertas was one of more than 6,000 migrants who arrived in Washington between April and July.

Huertas was assaulted in the nation’s capital shortly after he arrived.

“He attacked me and punched me very hard,” he told VOA.

Luis said he went to a local hospital. But without documents, he didn’t receive immediate medical attention. His case is not the exception. Local officials say that while Washington is a sanctuary city, it is overwhelmed by the flow of migrants. The mayor’s office even requested help from the federal government.

“Money, time, and human resources are needed,” said Larry Villegas from Washington’s Office of Human Rights, “because the D.C. government alone will not be able to cover this need.”

Nonprofits such as CARECEN have stepped up to help migrants when they arrive from Texas.

Initially, volunteers provided migrants with information, food, and shelter for three days. However, more than 140 buses have arrived in Washington from Texas and Arizona.

The demand has overwhelmed nonprofits.

“When people come now, because they keep coming, they will find that it is not much,” CARECEN Director Abel Nunez told VOA, referring to what little remains of free food and temporary shelter resources. “There is less than there was before and what there was before was not enough.”

Recently, the Biden administration directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide basic care for those arriving in Washington. But even with these resources, advocates say, it is not enough.

“Initially, there were families who welcomed immigrants into their own homes. We had a two-week shelter for a very small group, but opportunities to have long-term housing for immigrants have truly never existed,” Tatiana Laborde, managing director at SAMU First Response, told VOA.

Luis Huertas arrived at that same conclusion.

“It’s impossible to get opportunities, a job, maybe a home, when doors are closed to you just because you don’t have papers,” he said.

Despite the obstacles these immigrants are facing, every week about 500 migrants are arriving in Washington living similar stories.