Hundreds of Venezuelan migrants miserably awaiting a chance to cross to the United States in Mexico have been left heartbroken by a Supreme Court decision that could extend a sweeping travel ban.
Fleeing equally dire conditions at home, migrants have waited weeks or months along the Mexico-US border for the phasing out this week of a Covid-19-era policy that has allowed the US government to send millions to refuse entry.
They may have to wait a while longer.
“We are humans! We are flesh and bones. How do we get the judges and governors to see this?” Juan Delgado, 38, told AFP at a makeshift camp in Ciudad Juarez on the Mexico side of the border.
Crestfallen Delgado, dressed in a light sweater unsuitable for the near-freezing temperatures, was referring to a request by 20 US states in the Supreme Court to stop the phasing out of so-called Title 42.
“Why don’t you give us a chance?” he added. “They treat us like criminals if we just want to work.”
Delgado’s dismay was echoed by Edward Acevedo, 41, who said he weathered “many disasters” to get as far as Mexico, only to learn of the court’s decision with “great sadness”.
“We came through the jungle hungry and frozen,” he told AFP in an improvised shelter he shares with dozens of compatriots at a pastor’s house.
The number of Venezuelans trying to reach the United States has skyrocketed amid an economic implosion under leftist President Nicolas Maduro.
According to the UN, more than seven million Venezuelans have fled their country and risked life and limb on a long, dangerous journey to a hopefully better life.
Many are attempting to enter the United States, but most — nearly six million — now live in other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the UN Refugee Agency.
– A cold front is coming –
The conditions in which migrants live along the border speak to their desperation.
Fires in garbage cans are used for heating and cooking, most of them sleep on the streets. The lucky few have a thin tent. A cold front is looming and promises to drop temperatures to -5C (23F) later this week.
Many have crossed treacherous rivers with children on their shoulders, while others are now trying to make ends meet by selling blankets, gloves or slices of pizza.
Others light campfires for tips that back home can add up to more than a month’s salary in a day.
In October, the US announced a humanitarian program to allow 24,000 Venezuelan asylum seekers entry – but only if they can prove they have a sponsorship and fly into the country.
Land travelers without travel documents would continue to be expelled.
Last week, a Washington Court of Appeals ruled that there was no longer justification for using Title 42 — a Donald Trump-era policy widely criticized as cruel and ineffective — to keep migrants out.
But on Monday the US Supreme Court granted a last-minute petition from mostly Republican-run states claiming an abrupt end to Title 42 at midnight on December 21 would result in an overwhelming flow of migrants.
Chief Justice John Roberts issued an emergency stay, giving the government until Tuesday to present its own case.
That means Title 42 could theoretically expire as early as this week if the court rules in the government’s favour. Or it could be extended while the court examines the matter further.
– ‘Give us a chance’ –
The legal back-and-forth will hardly dissuade the many thousands of Venezuelans from believing that their only hope for a better life lies somewhere abroad.
Many of those expelled from the US simply try again. And again.
“A salary in Venezuela is $20. With this I can buy two chickens. How do you live like that?
A Venezuelan, who declined to be named, spoke to AFP while squeezing through a narrow hole in the border wall between Ciudad Juarez and El Paso in the United States.
“I can’t wait any longer,” he said after learning of the court ruling.
“My wife is dying of a tumor, I need money for medicine,” the man said, crossing himself as he touched American soil.