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Across the border, migrants face uncertainty about future immigration policy

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Posted at 12:59 PM, Mar 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-02 14:46:38-04

Every night inside the San Juan Bosco Migrant Shelter in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, not far from the border of Arizona, there are dozens, sometimes hundreds of people who have found refuge.

Recently, Alma Cota De Yanez stood in front of a packed chapel of men, women, children and the elderly, and asked for a show of hands of where people had traveled from.

“Mexico,” she said before just a handful of hands went into the air.

When she called out “Guatemala,” nearly every hand in the room was risen.

They are people who have traveled, sometimes on foot, from a country more than 2,000 miles away, with hopes of making it to the United States.

Alma works for Fundación del Empresariado Sonorense A.C. or FESAC, a local nonprofit in the community that supports the shelter.

She says most people at this shelter are from Central American countries like Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

Many of the migrants are trying to escape poverty and violence in their home country.

Most at the shelter have already tried to enter the U.S. Some are seeking asylum. Others may have tried illegally, but they were unsuccessful.

“These are people that have been under the status of catch and release,” Alma said. “They are caught right at the minute they cross, and they are put back. And they usually come here to sleep.”

The San Juan Bosco Migrant Shelter first opened in 1982 and they say they’ve been open every day since.

At the shelter, migrants receive a warm meal, clothes, medical attention and guidance in finding legal advice.

It was founded by Paco Loureiro’s parents. His mother, Gilda, still helps run the shelter after his father, Juan Francisco, passed last year.

While the Mayor of Nogales, Arizona, says there is not a "crisis" in his city like what is happening along other parts of the U.S. – Mexico border, Paco says he’s seen an increase in migrants coming to his shelter since President Joe Biden has taken office, even though the administration has said the border is closed.

“As this new administration started, there was this call that people felt. This is a new administration, let’s go right now,” Alma said about the increase in migrants coming towards the border.

Inside the shelter’s chapel, a man told us he and his brother left Guatemala in hopes of finding better work. He said their jobs in Guatemala paid the equivalent to six U.S. dollars a day.

Among the faces were young children. Alma says at the shelter, they are all traveling with their parents, unlike the recent spike in unaccompanied minors trying to cross the border.

Alex La Pierre is with Arizona-based Border Community Alliance, a group that helps support the shelter and works to bridge the divide between Mexico and the U.S.

He says for many migrants, there is uncertainty as many on both sides wonder how leaders will handle immigration issues next.

“People think with the new administration, things have switched overnight and that’s not the case,” Alex said.

Finding the right approach to solving immigration may feel impossible, but Alex would like people, no matter their opinion, to start with what you see and who you see in places like the shelter.

“Have empathy for these people who really have nothing. This is really their last resort is coming here and making this journey. It’s something that isn’t just a flip of a coin, but it was something that they had no other choice,” he said.