For many Americans, the scenes unfolding at the U.S.-Mexico border are visceral and jarring. A 7-year old girl from Honduras walking in the darkness to keep up with strangers she met on the perilous journey from northern Mexico to Texas. A migrant woman deported from the U.S. crying at a park across the international bridge in Mexico. A group of men standing in the shadows of the border wall after being spotted — and soon-to-be deported — by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents.
For those crossing, particularly unaccompanied children, there are opportunities and risks. A new U.S. president promised to dismantle his predecessor’s policies governing asylum seekers who arrive at the southern border. Exactly who the new administration is allowing into the country is unknown, but thousands of children from Central America and Mexico who arrived in recent weeks are now in U.S. custody. Some families have been sent to relatives in the U.S. while they wait for asylum court appointments. And thousands of others have been expelled, mostly to Mexico, where they will decide whether to cross again or return home.
Migration flows at the U.S.-Mexico border are increasing for the third time in seven years under Republican and Democratic presidents. Unlike the Trump administration, President Joe Biden has chosen not to expel immigrant children — like the unaccompanied 7-year-old girl from Honduras photographed in Texas this week by the Associated Press — who arrive at the southern border without a parent. And new rules put in place by the Biden administration mean some families with “acute vulnerabilities” are being released to family in the U.S. and allowed to pursue asylum, while others in almost identical circumstances are not.
For migrant children and teens journeying from Mexico to the U.S., there is uncertainty, fear, hope and lots of waiting. On a recent day at a plaza near the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge point of entry into the U.S., a deported migrant boy launched a paper plane into the air while playing with other migrant children in Reynosa, Mexico.
A day earlier in Brownsville, Texas, a young child clutched a migrant woman’s arm as they waited for a humanitarian group to process them after Border Patrol agents processed and released them at a bus station. Similar scenes play out every day in towns in Mexico and the U.S. — snapshots of the uneven luck met by immigrants arriving by the thousands at the border.