Amid border surge, confusion reigns over Biden policies

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Migrants line up for a free meal at a makeshift camp of migrants at the border port of entry leading to the United States, Wednesday, March 17, 2021, in Tijuana, Mexico. The migrant camp shows how confusion has undercut the message from U.S. President Joe Biden that its not the time to come to the United States. Badly misinformed, some 1,500 migrants who set up tents across the border from San Diego harbor false hope that Biden will open entry briefly and without notice. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

TIJUANA – It took less than a month for 200 tents to fill every spot in a Mexican plaza at the busiest border crossing with the United States.

At the camp in Tijuana, across the border from San Diego, some 1,500 migrants line up for hot meals under a canopy-covered kitchen, children play soccer and volunteers in orange jackets rotate on security patrol. People pay to use the bathroom at a pharmacy or travel agency across the street and to shower at a hotel on the corner.

Badly misinformed, the migrants harbor false hope that President Joe Biden will open entry to the United States briefly and without notice. Or they think he may announce a plan that will put them first in line to claim asylum, though he hasn't said anything to support that theory.

Biden ended some hardline border policies of his predecessor, Donald Trump, proposed a pathway to citizenship for people in the U.S. illegally and promised in an executive order to “create a humane asylum system.” But neither he nor his aides have outlined the new approach to asylum or said when it will be unveiled, creating an information void and giving rise to rumors that migrants would be allowed in. Amid sharply higher migration flows, confusion and skepticism surround Biden's insistence that it's not the time to come to the border.

“The camp is a center for disinformation,” said Edgar Benjamin Paz, a Honduran man whose family's tent is one of the first in an unsanctioned line to seek asylum. “No one knows what's going on.”

The camp was established after the Biden administration announced on Feb. 12 that asylum-seekers waiting in Mexico for court dates could be released in the United States while their cases wind through the system. It extends only to an estimated 26,000 asylum-seekers with active cases under Trump's “Remain in Mexico” policy, which Biden halted. As of Monday, 2,114 people in the program had been admitted to the U.S. at crossings in San Diego and in the Texas cities of El Paso and Brownsville.

Paz, who fled Honduras with his wife and two children after a gang demanded their accounting business follow its orders, said migrants wrongly interpreted the February announcement to mean that the border was “open.”

U.S. authorities encountered migrants at the border more than 100,000 times in February, the first six-figure total since a four-month streak in 2019. There's been a surge of families and children traveling alone, who enjoy more legal protections.