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After court setback, migrants cling to hopes of reaching US

A Venezuelan migrant warms her hands over a campfire outside her makeshift tent refusing to be relocated to a refugee shelter, in Matamoros, Mexico, Friday, Dec. 23, 2022. Migrants are waiting along the U.S.-Mexico border on a pending U.S. Supreme Court decision on asylum restrictions. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
Fernando Llano
A Venezuelan migrant warms her hands over a campfire outside her makeshift tent refusing to be relocated to a refugee shelter, in Matamoros, Mexico, Friday, Dec. 23, 2022.

A familiar mix of disappointment, patience and determination spread among migrants on Mexico's northern border waiting to enter the United States as they faced the reality that pandemic-era asylum limits would remain for now.

Cautious optimism for an immediate opening had prevailed after a judge in November ordered in that a public health rule known as Title 42 end Dec. 21. But the U.S. Supreme Court dashed those hopes with a 5-4 decision Tuesday to hear arguments over the policy in February and to keep it in place until they rule.

Cristian Alexis Alvarez, 26, said returning to Honduras with his wife and their 5-year-old daughter wasn’t an option after suffering through two kidnappings, hunger and sleeping in the streets on a four-month journey to Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso, Texas.

Alvarez, who wants to join family in the United States and has already been expelled to Mexico under Title 42, said the Supreme Court’s decision was “somewhat painful” but he was determined to wait for another opportunity.

“We cannot turn back and that’s all there is to it — wait until we see what happens,” he said after hearing the news.

Tuesday's ruling likely keeps Title 42 in place for at least several months but is not the final word. The court will review whether the 19 states challenging the policy have a right to intervene in the lawsuit.

Both the federal government and immigration advocates have argued the states waited too long and — even if they hadn’t — they don’t have sufficient standing to intervene.

Under Title 42, migrants have been denied rights to seek asylum under U.S. and international law 2.5 million times since March 2020 on grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Angeles Colmenares, 23, said she was “a little surprised” by the court's ruling and had hoped to be in the United States over the winter holidays but that she was determined to wait. She abandoned her studies in public finance because she no longer saw a future in Venezuela. About 7 million Venezuelans have fled their country since 2014.

Colmenares, who reached Ciudad Juarez with her partner and three cousins, said her advice to other migrants was to believe “with the grace of God that we will achieve our dreams and, if not, that we will achieve something in Mexico."

While Title 42 applies to all nationalities, it has fallen hardest on people from countries that Mexico accepts: Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and, more recently, Venezuela, in addition to Mexico itself. High costs, strained diplomatic relations and other considerations complicate U.S. efforts to expel others, including Cubans and Nicaraguans.

Norky Jamar, 34, said the court's decision was a blow but that her family hoped the good fortune that got them safely through the notorious Panamanian jungle would last until they reached the United States.

“We have always traveled with God's blessing,” she said. “That's the first thing we need to keep in mind.”

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