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Border & Immigration Update: U.S. Allows Some ‘Vulnerable’ Migrants To Enter Country

Mexican and American flags fly over a bridge.
An international bridge between El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico

Here’s a rundown of immigration and other news from the Texas border and beyond. Look out for a weekly recap from reporters at Texas’ public radio stations.

Some ‘Vulnerable’ Migrants Allowed To Cross Border

The Biden administration is ramping up exceptions to a public health order issued at the start of the pandemic that has closed the U.S.-Mexico border to most migrants and asylum seekers.

NPR reports that a growing number of asylum seekers are being granted “humanitarian exceptions” to the policy — known as Title 42 — which allows immigration officials to turn away or quickly expel migrants at the border.

Most people being granted exceptions are considered especially vulnerable, including transgender migrants and families with young children. (The administration has already been allowing unaccompanied children to enter the country.) They are tested for COVID-19 in Mexico and allowed to enter the U.S. to pursue asylum.

The Department of Homeland Security says it is “working to streamline a system for identifying and lawfully processing particularly vulnerable individuals,” but migration experts and aid groups say the Biden administration hasn’t explained how the system works or provided clear criteria for who is allowed to enter the country, creating widespread confusion in border communities.

“It can really seem to migrants kind of like a game of chance,” said Jessica Bolter, an analyst at the Migration Policy Institute.

In recent weeks, groups of up to 50 people have been allowed to cross from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico into El Paso, Texas almost daily.

A Juárez shelter for trans women closed its doors this week, as the last of its residents crossed the border under these humanitarian exceptions, El Paso Matters reports. Casa de Colores opened in an old hotel in November 2020 and became a home for dozens of transgender migrants, mostly from El Salvador, as they waited in limbo for a chance to request asylum.

“It’s a bittersweet feeling,” said Fernanda Levin, one of the last women to leave the shelter. “I’m happy that I’ll be able to fulfill my dream, but we’re sad that Casa de Colores is closing.”

Despite the humanitarian exceptions, many migrants are still being expelled. However, the U.S. government recently stopped flying families hundreds of miles along the border in order to expel them back into Mexico, CBS News confirmed. Advocates criticized these expulsion flights, saying they left families stranded far from where they crossed the border and raising concerns about health and safety precautions.

Though expulsion flights from South Texas to El Paso and San Diego have stopped, the U.S. government is still transporting some families from the Rio Grande Valley to Laredo and then expelling them to Mexico. In addition, certain families who cross the border near Yuma, Arizona are being transported to San Diego, and some are then expelled into Mexico there.

Long Visa Wait Times Put Afghan Families At Risk

After a 10-year wait, the family of an Afghan interpreter who was killed by the Taliban for his work with the U.S. military is one step closer to resettling in Houston, Houston Public Media Reports.

The interpreter (referred to by the pseudonym “Mohammed”) and his family were eligible for Special Immigrant Visas under a program granting visas to Afghan and Iraqi nationals who were working with the U.S. military or diplomats.

The visa approval took a decade, and Mohammed was killed in January 2021 while waiting for next steps.

Advocates including military veterans worked to get emergency immigration approvals for his wife and six children, and this week U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services approved the family’s application for humanitarian parole.

The Mohammed family case highlights the sometimes deadly cost of long visa wait times for Afghan and Iraqi war translators and others who have worked alongside the U.S. military during armed conflict.

Currently, some 18,000 Afghan families have pending visa applications to come to the United States, as they live in life-threatening conditions. The approaching September 2021 deadline to withdraw troops from Afghanistan has renewed calls to quickly grant visas to those who served alongside U.S. armed forces, risking their lives and the lives of their families.

Thousands Of Migrant Children And Teens Remain In Government Custody

The federal government is housing around 21,000 migrant children and teens in more than 200 shelters across the U.S., including five shelters with more than 1,000 children packed inside, the Associated Press reports. The number of children in government custody has more than doubled in the past two months.

While some shelters are safe and provide adequate care, others are “endangering children’s health and safety,” according to attorneys, advocates and mental health experts.

In recent weeks, the Biden administration has been able to more quickly move children out of “jail-like” border patrol facilities and into government shelters, where officials work to vet and reunite them with U.S. sponsors — often a parent, other relative or family friend.

Yet this shelter system “involves about a dozen unlicensed emergency facilities inside military installations, stadiums and convention centers that skirt state regulations and don’t require traditional legal oversight,” the AP says.

In Texas, some advocates and former contract employees have raised concerns about conditions at an emergency shelter for teen boys at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center; some teens have been staying on buses overnight while they wait to reunite with sponsors, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Mallory Falk is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Got a tip? Email Mallory at You can follow Mallory on Twitter @MalloryFalk.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gifttoday. Thank you.

Mallory Falk covers El Paso and the border for KERA as part of The Texas Newsroom, a regional news hub linking stations across the state. She is part of the national Report for America program, which places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues.