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Refugees call Title 42 a ‘stupid excuse’ as it remains in place | Migration News

Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico – “Every corner has a gun,” Evens Odmond said of his home country, Haiti.

Odmond, his wife and their four-year-old son arrived in Mexico six months ago, hoping to seek asylum in the United States. They are now stuck in limbo in a border town plagued by violence and unable to turn back.

“I left Haiti because there is no life there. I’m just trying to have a better life for myself and my family,” he said.

This month, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said violence in Haiti had reached “unimaginable and intolerable levels”. Between April 24 and May 16, at least 92 people not affiliated with gangs were killed in coordinated attacks in Port-au-Prince, the UN reported. The violence – including beheadings, chopping and burning of bodies, and sexual assaults – has forced masses of people out.

“We just want to get into the United States, that’s the only dream we have,” he said, referring to himself and other Haitians waiting in Tijuana for the border to open.

They must continue to wait for the time being.

A federal judge on Friday blocked the Biden administration’s plan to end Title 42, an order invoked by the former Trump administration that cited the COVID pandemic as a reason to deport asylum seekers from states -United. The Biden administration decided to end Title 42 on May 23, but the judge’s order overturned those plans.

Evens Odmond, his wife Edelie Elasme Arturo and their four-year-old son Brayan are waiting in Tijuana for Title 42 to end so they can seek asylum in the United States. [Hillary Beaumont/Al Jazeera]

Asylum is a legal procedure under international law that allows people to present themselves on American soil and declare that they are afraid to return to their country of origin. But since March 2020, the United States has carried out nearly two million deportations of asylum seekers. The American Immigration Council has pointed out that US borders are open to international travellers, with nearly 11 million people passing through ports of entry each month.

Odmond and his family have not yet applied for asylum and do not have a lawyer. “Let me see if they rescind Title 42, then I will,” he said.

“My big fear is that if I try to reach the border now, they’ll take me back to Haiti. But if they cancel title 42, it’s going to be an opportunity for us, because it’s going to give us six or seven months to go to court,” he explained.

On Monday, the day Title 42 was scheduled to end, Border Patrol agents marched along the Brown Wall on the San Diego side of the San Ysidro Port of Entry. Facing media cameras lined up next to the wall, Guerline Jozef, co-founder and executive director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, said 522 people were deported to Haiti over the weekend under Title 42.

Haitians are targets of violence when they migrate “because they travel in their black bodies”, she told Al Jazeera. She called it “a death sentence” for sending people back to Haiti.

The turmoil can be attributed to the country’s colonial history and Haitians having to pay France billions of dollars for their freedom, she said.

The 1970s and 1980s saw a wave of refugees flee due to political unrest in the country. A massive earthquake in 2010 killed hundreds of thousands of people. And in 2016, Hurricane Matthew devastated southern Haiti, forcing internal and external migration.

A man walks with an ice cream cart next to the Tijuana border wall that separates Mexico from the United States.
A man walks with an ice cream cart next to the Tijuana border wall that separates Mexico from the United States [Hilary Beaumont/Al Jazeera]

There is now a vacuum in political decision-making following the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise last year, and gang killings are displacing entire neighborhoods, she explained.

“The root causes of migration are directly linked to political instability, climate change and the fact that we have been impoverished by the powers of the world, including France and the United States,” Jozef said.

Hearing Odmond’s story, she suddenly had tears in her eyes. “I will tell the family that we are here for them and will continue to fight on their behalf,” she said.

The White House announced on Friday that it would appeal the judge’s decision.

According to Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, senior policy adviser at the US Immigration Council, to lift the Title 42 order, the administration would have to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking, take comments for 30 to 60 days, and review all comments before publishing a final rule. The process would take six months to a year, minimum, he tweeted. And after that, it would be challenged.

Monika Langarica, of UCLA’s Center for Immigration Law and Policy, told Al Jazeera that the judge’s order outlined flaws in how the administration lifted Title 42 and echoed Reichlin-Melnick’s assertion that it could take officials months to try again. In the short term, she said the administration could seek an emergency stay of the injunction, while appealing the order. If granted, they could lift Title 42.

“Tragically, the only thing to tell people right now is that Title 42 remains in place,” she said. “There is no systematic viable option through which they could seek asylum. And now we’re going to keep fighting to end this, but I think it would be dishonest to come up with a timeline or end this nightmare at this point.

Patricia, a transgender asylum seeker, kneels on the grass during a vigil in Tijuana.
Patricia, a transgender asylum seeker, kneels on the grass during a vigil in Tijuana, Mexico, calling for an end to Title 42 [Hilary Beaumont/Al Jazeera]

Patricia, a transgender activist from Mexico who did not want her last name published because she fears for her life, attended a protest and vigil Sunday night in Tijuana, Mexico. She lives in an inn there, waiting for the border to open.

She tried to apply for asylum three months ago but was refused. “The last time I tried to go alone I spoke with a US immigration officer,” she said in Spanish on WhatsApp. “He told me that they weren’t accepting anyone’s asylum applications because the border was closed.”

“Title 42 is an absurd excuse from the United States,” she said.

She worked for a transgender rights collective in the Mexican city of Juarez, but in May 2021 she said she was threatened and extorted by an organized crime group. “[The group] has already killed a missing activist in the area who has never been found,” she said. “I lived in Tijuana for a year for fear that they would find me and kill me.”

Patricia is now working with a lawyer on her asylum case. She had previously applied for asylum in the United States four years ago, but it was refused. she said they didn’t believe she was transgender and said Mexico was safe for people like her.

Refugees and migrants cross a bridge in Tijuana.
Refugees and migrants cross a bridge in Tijuana, Mexico to demand the right to seek asylum and an end to Title 42 [Hilary Beaumont/Al Jazeera]

“I feel powerless that I can’t make my dreams come true,” she said after learning on Friday that Title 42 would remain in place.

“I’ve been through a lot and when I’m at the doors they close them. It angers me that they are not aware of what members of the LGBTQ community are going through.

She wants a future with more freedom and without discrimination. “I hope for a world without borders, where walls don’t stop us from achieving our dreams, where people respect us as they respect heterosexuals,” she said.

Odmond and his family are also afraid to wait in Tijuana due to kidnappings and violence.

“My big dream for my wife and my son right now is to go to the United States and help my family in Haiti, my mother, my brother, my sister,” he said. “There are also kidnappings in Haiti. That’s why we left Haiti, and here in Mexico, it’s the same thing.

San Ysidro Port of Entry in Tijuana
The San Ysidro port of entry in Tijuana, Mexico is open to international travelers but remains closed to most asylum seekers [Hillary Beaumont/Al Jazeera]