Immigration advocates blame Trump’s metering system for ‘port runners’

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ALAMO, Texas ⁠— Immigration advocates say the Trump Administration’s metering system ⁠— which limits the number of people who can cross into the United States and apply for asylum at legal ports of entry ⁠— is likely spurring on incidents of “bridge running,” in which migrants dash across international bridges from the mid-point in the hopes of entering U.S. soil.

Border Report first reported Wednesday that migrants who are desperate to enter the United States in South Texas have begun “bridge running” from the center of several bridges in McAllen, Hidalgo and Laredo, Texas, according to U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, (D-Texas).

“Asylum seekers are going to the middle of the bridge in taxis and cars and then getting out and making a run for it,” said Cuellar, who is vice chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security. He told Border Report that federal officials also are watching 300 refugees who are amassing at the port in Eagle Pass, Texas, “and they’re afraid they might make a run for it.”

Asylum seekers are going to the middle of the bridge in taxis and cars and then getting out and making a run for it …”

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas)

The phenomenon of bridge runners, or port runners, has not typically been seen in South Texas. There were several instances of it happening years back at international bridges in El Paso bridges, in far West Texas, but this is new to the Rio Grande Valley and Laredo areas, many advocates say.

These instances ⁠— some caught on cellphone videos that are beginning to circulate on social media ⁠— have forced Customs and Border Protection officers to set up concrete barricades and concertina wire on the international bridges connecting the Texas cities of Hidalgo, McAllen, and Progreso, to deter would-be runners. U.S. immigration officials also are walking the bridges and looking inside taxis and cars trying to spot would-be runners.

“Periodic deployment of port hardening measures such as concertina wire and barricades supplemented by CBP personnel, effectively eliminates the ability for a large group of migrants to illegally and forcefully surge through the Ports of Entry. By putting officers on the bridge, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is taking a proactive approach to ensure that arriving travelers have valid entry documents in order to expedite the processing of lawful travel,” CBP wrote in a statement.

But Efren Olivares, director of the racial and economic justice program for the Texas Civil Rights Project, based in Alamo, Texas, said if the Trump Administration would reverse its 2019 policy on metering the number of asylum seekers at each port of entry, then migrants would not be forced to make such desperate attempts.

“It’s a direct result and consequence of this administration’s metering policy,” Olivares said. “No one can cross and what that means is that people are forced to wait on the Mexican side.”

Only 2-5 asylum-seekers per week

Olivares said that only two to five asylum seekers are granted permission to enter each week at each port, yet there are hundreds, if not thousands who are waiting. Migrants unable to cross are then forced to wait at crowded shelters in Mexico, like one in Reynosa, which he said currently has over 600 people. He said hundreds of Cuban refugees are waiting to cross at the Progreso–Nuevo Progreso International Bridge.

Mexican officials oversee this metering system, which is rife with reports of abuse by Mexican immigration agents. “They decide who gets on the list based on who can pay, and that’s straight up extortion,” Olivares said.

No other administration has implemented such a migrant metering system. The Trump Administration put this into effect earlier in the year, but Olivares said recently agents have drastically reduced the number of people allowed to cross to apply for asylum.

Merely crossing and applying for asylum in no way guarantees migrants will be granted permission to stay, but Olivares said it’s a first step to determining whether they have credible fear of persecution and a legitimate claim for asylum in the United States.

Salvadoran migrant Oscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his nearly 2-year-old daughter Valeria are shown June 24, 2019, lying on the banks of the Rio Grande in Matamoros, Mexico. They drowned trying to cross the river to Brownsville, Texas. (AP Photo/Julia Le Duc)

Without it, he expects more migrants to make crazy dashes, or even attempt to cross in dangerous remote places, like Salvadoran migrant Oscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez, and his young daughter, Valeria, who drowned clutching one another on the banks of the Rio Grande in Matamoros, Mexico, last month while trying to cross into Brownsville, Texas.

Cuellar is holding a roundtable discussion to address the port runners on Friday at the Humanitarian Respite Center, which is run by the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in McAllen. Cuellar also is expected to talk about how nonprofit organizations and municipalities can now apply for federal humanitarian reimbursement funds for helping migrants.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at SSanchez@BorderReport.com.

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