Hundreds of people march through El Paso streets in western Texas state to offer solidarity and comfort migrants, ahead of President Joe Biden's politically thorny visit to the southern border.
Several hundred people have marched through the streets of El Paso in US state of Texas, and when they arrived at a group of migrants huddling outside a church, they sang to them "no estan solos" — "you are not alone."
Around 300 migrants have taken refuge on sidewalks outside Sacred Heart Church on Saturday, some of them afraid to seek more formal shelters, advocates say, amid new restrictions meant to crack down on illegal border crossings.
This is the scene that will greet President Joe Biden on his first, politically thorny visit to the southern border on Sunday.
The president announced last week that Cubans, Nicaraguans, Haitians and Venezuelans will be expelled to Mexico if they enter the US illegally — an expansion of a pandemic-era immigration policy called Title 42.
The announcement said that up to 30,000 qualifying migrants a month would be allowed into the United States from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela if they arrive by plane.
Biden is scheduled to arrive in El Paso in the afternoon before traveling on to Mexico City to meet with North American leaders on Monday and Tuesday in the so-called "Three Amigos" summit.
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Deportation of Venezuelans
Dylan Corbett, who runs the nonprofit Hope Border Institute, said the city is experiencing an increasing "climate of fear."
He said immigration enforcement agencies have already started ratcheting up deportations to Mexico, and he senses a rising level of tension and confusion.
The president's new policy expands on an existing effort to stop Venezuelans attempting to enter the US, which began in October.
Corbett said many Venezuelans have since been left in limbo, putting a strain on local resources.
He said expanding those policies to other migrants will only worsen the circumstances for them on the ground.
"It's a very difficult situation because they can’t go forward and they can’t go back," he said.
People who aren’t processed can’t leave El Paso because of US law enforcement checkpoints; most have travelled thousands of kilometres from their homelands and refuse to give up and turn around.
"There will be people in need of protection who will be left behind," Corbett said.
READ MORE: Desperate migrants throng US-Mexico border amid asylum limbo
The new restrictions represent a major change to immigration rules that will stand even if the US Supreme Court ends a Trump-era public health law that allows US authorities to turn away asylum-seekers.
El Paso has swiftly become the busiest of the Border Patrol's nine sectors along the US border with Mexico, occupying the top slots in October and November.
Large numbers of Venezuelans began showing up in September, drawn to the relative ease of crossing, robust shelter networks and bus service on both sides of the border, and a major airport to destinations across the United States.
Venezuelans ceased to be a major presence almost overnight after Mexico, under Title 42 authority, agreed on October 12 to accept those who crossed the border illegally into the United States. Nicaraguans have since filled that void.
Title 42 restrictions have been applied 2.5 million times to deny migrants a right to seek asylum under US and international law on grounds of preventing the spread of Covid-19.
US authorities stopped migrants 53,247 times in November in the El Paso sector, which stretches across 425 kilometres of desert in West Texas and New Mexico but sees much of its activity in the city of El Paso and suburban Sunland Park, New Mexico.
The most recent monthly tally for the sector was more than triple the same period of 2021, with Nicaraguans the top nationality by far, followed by Mexicans, Ecuadoreans, Guatemalans and Cubans.
Many gathered under blankets outside Sacred Heart Church. The church opens its doors at night to families and women, so not all of the hundreds caught in this limbo must sleep outside in the dropping temperatures.
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