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Cold weather drives migrants camped at border bridge into shelter

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico, Nov. 13

The arrival of winter weather in the border city of Juarez, Mexico, has forced hundreds of migrants awaiting entry to the United States to seek shelter away from the international bridge, where many have been camped for days.

"The city authorities managed to convince the refugees to go to the Casa del Migrante so nobody froze to death last night," Jonathan Gonzalez, a member of Grupo Beta, told UPI on Tuesday. Grupo Beta is the branch of the Mexican immigration service that provides migrants with humanitarian assistance.

Before the temperature dropped on Friday, hundreds of migrants -- mostly Central Americans, Cubans and Venezuelans -- were camped out on the international bridge, awaiting entry to the United States to petition for political asylum.

"I spent six nights on the bridge before I went to a hotel," said Yerwin Saavedra, a 23-year-old former Venezuelan soldier fleeing repression. "Then we were given a number, which is our place in the line. I'm number 269. They write the number on our arms, but you can't see mine anymore because I washed. I know they have my name, though."

Saavedra is trying to get to Dallas to live with his uncle who has political asylum.

The Casa del Migrante in Ciudad Juárez sheltered 400 migrants awaiting entry to the United States on Saturday, said its social worker, Ivonne López de Lara.

"We do not want anybody sleeping on the bridge in this cold," López said. "They come to Juárez/El Paso because they heard from other migrants there was nobody here at the bridge," she said.

Migrants from Honduras agreed that Ciudad Juárez is "calmer." Cristian Reynaldo, 22, from Olancho, Honduras, said he arrived a week ago by train from Tabasco in southern Mexico. "It's not as dangerous here as Tamaulipas," he said. Reynaldo is headed to Tennessee, where his brother-in-law lives.

"I left Honduras because it is very dangerous. The gangs force you to sell drugs or to extort people," he said.

Waiting their turn

On Monday morning, the Casa housed 290 migrants and by the afternoon the number had dropped to 176. By Monday afternoon, the number shot up again to more than 200 as more migrants arrived from other parts of Mexico, López told UPI. The Casa del Migrante can house up to 1,500 people.

"The number is going down because Customs and Border Protection takes about 25 refugees at a time about three times a day," López said, "and city authorities and Mexican immigration provide the transportation to the bridge in a bus. But we don't know when CBP will take the refugees. The list is managed by Grupo Beta and they coordinate with the CBP."

People from El Paso and Juárez have been donating men's underwear, scarves, gloves, hats and blankets for the migrants. On Monday afternoon, two staffers from Texas state Sen. José Rodríguez's office brought a truck laden with a dozen bags of blankets, scarves, gloves and shoes. A Mexican Red Cross representative met them to help offload the items.

The Casa del Migrante is six miles from the downtown bridge, and there is no public transportation, with taxis costing $25 from downtown one way. While migrants shelter at the Casa they have access to medical care and psychological assistance, exercise equipment, and they eat three meals a day. Staff do not let migrants enter and exit, to protect them from robbery and assault. Many migrants told UPI they do not mind not remaining inside the Casa's compound because they know Juárez is not a safe city.

"I was assaulted and robbed on the way here," Cosme Calix Bueso said. The 53-year-old father of eight is a coffee grower from Comayuga, Honduras. He has no work in Honduras, the price of coffee being too low to support his family. He is trying to get to Virginia. Before Calix Bueso arrived in Ciudad Juárez a week ago, he was working as a nut picker and sheller in Constitución, Chihuahua.

"They robbed me of everything I earned. The only thing I have left of the work is the stains the nuts left on my hands. I just want to work," he said. "But I've been treated very well here at the Casa del Migrante." .

Bused to the border

On Tuesday morning, 25 Hondurans and Cubans wrapped in blankets and scarves boarded a bus from the the shelter to the downtown bridge linking Ciudad Juárez to El Paso, Texas. The group were numbered between 236 and 260. Three children were in the group. Nemiah Adonai Rodríguez of Honduras was carrying the youngest refugee, his daughter, Karen Denis, 18 months old.

Two Grupo Beta agents led the migrants in single file up the bridge's pedestrian sidewalk to the waiting U.S. CBP agents. Every person who wants to make their way to the immigration building now has to show valid documents even before they set foot on U.S. soil. Some Mexicans on their way to the United States wished the refugees good luck while others just stared. One young woman who wanted to push past the migrants was asked to wait by CBP officers, provoking her visible annoyance.

The 25 migrants stood at the top of the bridge at the international line marker while two CBP officers radioed to their superior for authorization to let them enter. After about 10 minutes, the CBP officers motioned for the migrants to enter the United States so they could begin their asylum process.

"They have been accepting more people now that they aren't camped out on the bridge," said one Grupo Beta agent, who declined to give his name.

Meanwhile, back at the Casa del Migrante, other migrants with numbers have to sit out the wait, uncertain about when they will enter the United States.

"It's not yet my turn," Saavedra said. "But it will be soon. I think I'll be in the group admitted this afternoon."
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