Migrants observe self-imposed ‘house arrest’ to avoid victimization in Mexican border towns

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"From work to your house" becomes common creed among Cuban asylum-seekers after two of their countrymen were murdered in Juarez

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Two Cuban asylum seekers have been murdered in Juarez in the past 13 months. Their fate doesn’t surprise some of the thousands of migrants waiting there for their date in court in the United States.

Aware that being placed by U.S. authorities in the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program is forcing them to wait in one of the most violent cities in Latin America, the asylum seekers have coined a reassuring phrase: “from work to your house.”

“In Cuba, you don’t see this, you don’t see this violence. Here you (must go) from work to the house. We aren’t used to that. It’s a little frustrating,” said Igor Pupo Vera, who arrived in Juarez from Cuba in early 2019 to seek political asylum in the U.S.

On Aug. 16, a Cuban asylum seeker so far only identified by Juarez police as “Felix,” was shot to death near a market south of Downtown. The 50-year-old man was approached by two men who fired at least three bullets at him, police said. As of Thursday afternoon, the homicide in the Chaveña neighborhood remains unsolved.

On July 18, 2019, Osmany Baldemira Pavon, 40, was stabbed to death in the same neighborhood after an argument with a neighbor. Baldemira was from Holguin, Cuba and was also waiting in Juarez to be called to an asylum hearing in El Paso, Texas.

“At first you do feel fear because we don’t see this (violence) in Cuba,” said Ardian Rabel, an asylum seeker who has opened her own nail sculpting shop in Juarez. “But as long as you work and you behave, there is nothing to fear. I wake up, go to work, close the shop, and go home.”

Juarez in 2019 recorded 1,497 homicides, and so far this year has seen close to 1,100 murders. Other Mexican border cities hosting migrant asylum seekers can be equally dangerous. The Citizen Council for Public Safety and Criminal Justice, for instance, last year designated Tijuana as the “Murder capital of the world.”

Migrant advocates in the U.S. say asylum seekers are being forced to live under self-imposed “house arrest” to survive the years-long waits for a resolution to their claims.

“It’s sadly part of the callousness of these policies that this ends up happening,” said Marisa Limon, deputy director of El Paso’s Hope Border Institute. “Because there wasn’t really a plan before programs like MPP were put into place, we end up keeping migrants in harm’s way even though they’re doing everything they can to be safe, which means living this self-imposed kind of house arrest.”

Limon said advocates remain in touch with asylum seekers in Mexico, many of whom have seen their cases further delayed by temporary court closings due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Their advice to the migrants is to hang on as long as possible.

But both Pupo and Rabel say the waits are forcing some asylum seekers to either give up or try to cross into the United States illegally.

“The coronavirus has pushed back our hearings. It’s forcing Cubans to try to enter by force to the United States,” Pupo said. “Some of us hope things will get better, that in the future (the U.S. government) will soften up. […] But I don’t want other people to go through what I went through to get here. I spent seven days crossing the jungle (in Central America). You could lose your life doing what I did.”

Rabel said she’s all but given up on the American Dream but is confident in finding a new life in Mexico.

“I never imagined I would have my own business. In Cuba, they (the regime) make it very difficult for people to have their own business. I hope I can get papers here and be done with it,” she said.

Juarez free-lance photojournalist Roberto Delgado contributed to this report.

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