Biden’s proposal for immigration brings hope for migrants on Mexico-US border

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US President Joe Biden prepares before he addresses the nation at the ‘Celebrating America’ event at the Lincoln Memorial after his inauguration as the 46th President of the US in Washington, DC on Wednesday. POOL/AFP

Migrants stranded on the Mexican-US border on January 20 said Joe Biden’s arrival in the US White House had given them a new sense of optimism after years of former President Donald Trump’s harsh policies.

“We’re very happy. We feel hopeful again,” said Nicaraguan Jessica Valles, who has been waiting in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez for 18 months.

She watched Biden’s inauguration on television in a shelter along with other migrants stuck in northern Mexico.

“It makes us feel more confident and we see that the new president is not putting us to one side and is thinking of us,” said a woman named Fatima, a migrant from El Salvador who has been in Mexico for two years.

“We are all human beings and we all have the right to a better life.”

Trump sparked anger during his 2016 election campaign when he branded Mexican migrants “rapists” and “drug dealers”, and vowed to build a wall across the southern US border with Mexico.

His “zero tolerance” policy launched in 2018 saw thousands of children separated from their parents at the frontier, a tactic apparently meant to frighten the families, before the government backed down.

Under Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” programme, tens of thousands of non-Mexican asylum seekers – mostly from Central America – were sent back over the border pending the outcome of their asylum applications.

One of Biden’s first acts after he was sworn in on January 20 was to order a halt to construction of Trump’s hulking steel fence snaking along the Mexican-US border.

Mexico welcomed the move, as well as his other immigration-linked reforms.

Biden plans to send a bill to Congress to revamp immigration policies and give millions of undocumented migrants living inside the country a path to citizenship, according to his aides.

Biden’s Secretary of Homeland Security nominee Alejandro Mayorkas on January 19 said arriving migrants will be permitted to apply for asylum and have their cases reviewed.

Dennys Lopez, a migrant from Cuba, said: “Politicians promise a lot, but we hope that this will be the case, that we will be given the opportunity.”

Hopes that Biden will be more welcoming to migrants than Trump spurred thousands of would-be asylum seekers to join a northward march this month from Honduras towards the US.

But their dreams were dashed after security forces in Guatemala broke up the caravan and Washington warned the migrants not to “waste your time and money”.