Topped with razor wire and split by mountains, the infamous border wall that cuts through the desert between Mexico and the state of California has long been a focal point for America’s heated debate on migration. But with funding for the war in Ukraine and Gaza on the line in Washington DC, the issues at the wall have taken on new urgency.
Since the start of the year, about two million migrants have been apprehended at the US-Mexico border for crossing into the country illegally, a record high. The futility of the border fortifications is obvious near the small town of Jacumba. Wherever the wall meets the mountains it simply stops, creating a large gap that anyone can walk through to enter the US, and serving as a visual reminder of America’s broken immigration system.
You can’t really call the barren patch of desert on which they are staying a migrant camp because that suggests some kind of infrastructure. The only thing that the US authorities have provided here are two portable toilets that get emptied once a week. Yet this is where more than 500 people are sleeping out in the open.
Coming from as far afield as China, Cameroon and Uzbekistan, they’ve walked straight into a political quagmire with implications that reach all the way to Europe and the Middle East.
Local landowner – Jerry Schuster – is furious that his property is now littered with trash while his trees are being chopped down for firewood. An immigrant himself, originally from the former Yugoslavia, he said he thinks these migrants should do what he did and find a legal route into the US.
“Enough is enough,” he said. “We need to stop these people from coming here.”
Instead of worrying about a foreign war in Ukraine, US President Joe Biden ought to come to the border and tackle this crisis, he said.
Republicans in Congress agree.
In a Senate vote this week they blocked additional funding for Ukraine or Israel unless the Biden administration agrees to hardline immigration reform. The move hit Ukraine especially hard, as it faces an increasingly difficult-looking 2024.
“I will not go back to South Carolina and try to explain why I helped Ukraine, Taiwan and Israel and did nothing to secure our own border. I will help all of our allies, but we got to help ourselves first,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told media on Thursday.
But 2024 is also a big year for Biden – and his political rival, former President Donald Trump, as the two are set to face off, once again, in the US presidential election.
Trump is once again campaigning on a promise to end the migrant surge. Biden has signalled he is willing to compromise on the border in order to get funding through.
Watch: A look at the US border as immigration debate heats up
“We need to fix the broken border system, it is broken,” he said after the Senate vote.
Earlier this year, his administration changed the law to stop people from claiming asylum at official border crossings unless they had made an appointment in advance. But many find it impossible to try to schedule an appointment via the official mobile app, so they have continued to enter illegally instead.
Few try to evade border patrol guards – they are actively trying to hand themselves in. They want to be processed by the immigration authorities in order to formally lodge asylum claims. But the recent surge in people using this route has left the authorities overwhelmed. So migrants – many of them families with young children – are having to wait up to a week to get the chance to surrender themselves.
It took Naveed over 50 days to get here with his wife from Afghanistan. He asked us not to use his full name, out of fear of repercussions from the Taliban. He described a brutal journey through central America, walking for days in the rain through the dangerous Darien Gap and then being regularly mistreated and abused in Mexico.
“The moment we crossed the border we felt very different. We feel safe now. Even if we are in the middle of nowhere, we still feel safe,” he said.
The only food and water Naveed will see for the next week is provided by local volunteers who cook up and dole out rice, beans and soup every day. Their small town of Jacumaba has only 550 residents, and they estimate that they’ve fed 16,000 migrants in the last two months, relying on donations to pay for the ingredients.
Serving lentil soup and sweet milk tea is Sam Schultz, who spent his career working abroad in disaster relief. Now he’s spending his retirement dealing with a disaster on his doorstep.
“I have been told by the Border Patrol that the only way this situation is going to change is if we stop doing this. And then people start starving, getting hurt and sick and possibly even die out here,” he said.
But he said he won’t stop providing free meals as he doesn’t trust the authorities to step in and help.
Source : BBC