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KUNM News Update

SAT: Migrant camps grow amid uncertain US Policy, NM State Police search for Boy, + More

Gregory Bull
Associated Press
People line up for food donated from a nearby church at a camp for migrants Friday, May 14, 2021, in Reynosa, Mexico.

  Migrant camps grow in Mexico amid uncertainty on US policy – By Elliot Spagat, Associated Press

As darkness fell, about 250 police officers and city workers swept into a squalid camp for migrants hoping to apply for asylum in the United States. Migrants had to register for credentials or leave. Within hours, those who stayed were surrounded by enough chain-link fence to extend twice the height of the Statue of Liberty.

The Oct. 28 operation may have been the beginning of the end for a camp that once held about 2,000 people and blocks a major border crossing to the United States. There may be more camps to come.

First lady Jill Biden sharply criticized a similar camp in Matamoros, bordering Brownsville, Texas, on a 2019 visit, saying, "It's not who we are as Americans." The Biden administration touted its work closing that camp in March, but others sprang up around the same time in nearby Reynosa and in Tijuana.

The camps, full of young children, are a product of policies that force migrants to wait in Mexico for hearings in U.S. immigration court or prohibit them from seeking asylum under pandemic-related public health powers. Uncertainty about U.S. asylum policies has also contributed to growing migrant populations in Mexican border cities, creating conditions for more camps.

Migrants are often out of public view in border cities, but the Tijuana camp is highly visible and disruptive. Tents covered with blue tarps and black plastic bags block entry to a border crossing where an average of about 12,000 people entered the U.S. daily before the pandemic. It is one of three pedestrian crossings to San Diego. 

The U.S. fully reopened land borders with Mexico and Canada to vaccinated travelers Nov. 8.

Montserrat Caballero, Tijuana's first female mayor, said officials did "almost nothing" to control the camp before she took office Oct. 1. When she asked Mexico's state and federal governments to join her in erecting a fence and introducing a registry, they declined.

"The authorities at every level were scared — scared of making a mistake, scared of doing something wrong and affecting their political careers," she said in an interview. "No one wants to deal with these issues."

Caballero said she acted to protect migrants. She knows of no homicides or kidnappings at the camp, but The Associated Press found that assaults, drug use and threats have been common.

"I could not close my eyes to the flashing red light I saw," she said. "Closing your eyes only allows it grow." 

The only entry-exit is guarded around the clock by Tijuana police. Migrants with credentials are free to come and go.

"There is no asylum process (in the United States) until further notice," Enrique Lucero, the city's director of migrant services, told people who asked about U.S. policy on a morning walk-through last week.

Since March 2020, the U.S. has used Title 42, named for a public health law, to expel adults and families without an opportunity for asylum; unaccompanied children are exempt. But the Biden administration has exercised that authority on only about one of every four who come in families, largely due to resource constraints and Mexico's reluctance to take back Central American families.

It's unclear why the U.S. releases many families to seek asylum and returns others to Mexico, prompting those who are turned back to stick around until they succeed. 

Mayra Funes, a 28-year-old Honduran, said she didn't get a chance to make her case to agents when she was expelled crossing the border illegally near McAllen, Texas, in March with her 7-year-old daughter. She doesn't know if she will try again after six months in the Tijuana camp.

"There is no hope of knowing how they are going to open the process," she said.

Lucero, a soft-spoken graduate of George Washington University who worked at the Mexican consulate in Chicago, says his job is persuading migrants to move to a shelter, including large facilities recently opened by Mexico's federal and state governments. Many are turned off by curfews and other shelter rules and worry being farther from the border will cut them off from news on U.S. policy changes.

Natalina Nazario, 37, needed no convincing, stopping Lucero and jumping at the city's offer to pay bus fare to Acapulco, about 1,900 miles (3,040 kilometers) away, for her and her 17- and 11-year-old sons. She fears violence in the Mexican beach city but, after a month at the camp, doesn't want her children missing more school. 

Few others noticed Lucero's presence. Olga Galicia, a 23-year-old from Guatemala, sat on a curb scrubbing clothes in a plastic bin of soapy water. She had been at the camp about six months and said she will stay with her 3- and 1-year-old sons until she gets more information on how to seek asylum in the United States. 

Tijuana won't forcibly remove any migrants, said Caballero, who expects holdouts to leave during seasonal rains. Thousands of migrants who came in a 2018 caravan were soaked sleeping outside in frigid November downpours.

The city estimates the camp held 1,700 people two weeks before the Oct. 28 operation, which Caballero publicly warned was coming but didn't say when.

The first count, on Oct. 29, showed 769 migrants, more than 40% children. Half were Mexican — many from strife-torn states of Guerrero and Michoacan — and one-third were Honduran, with El Salvadorans and Guatemalans accounting for nearly all the rest. 

The steep decline just before registration likely reflects that many living there were Tijuana's homeless, not migrants, Caballero said.

The camp occupies a large, once-barren plaza. A warren of walkways includes rows that are wide enough in some parts for two people to stroll in opposite directions. People lounge inside tents or outside in folding chairs.

There are 12 portable bathrooms, 10 showers and a shared water tap for washing clothes. Charities donate food to migrants who prepare hot chocolate, fried eggs, hot dogs and spaghetti for everyone. The federal utility recently stopped the camp from stealing electricity, leaving it dark at night and forcing the makeshift kitchen to rely on canned food.

The future is less certain for a migrant camp in Reynosa, across the border from McAllen, Texas. It has about 2,000 people in a plaza near the city's main border crossing, said Felicia Rangel-Samponaro, director of The Sidewalk School, which educates children there. 

The Biden administration, under a court order, plans to soon reinstate a Trump-era policy to make asylum-seekers wait in Mexico for hearings in the U.S. It hinges on approval from Mexican officials, who have told U.S. authorities they need more shelter beds and worry about violence in the state of Tamaulipas, which includes Reynosa.

The "Remain in Mexico" policy is expected to resume in "the coming weeks" after U.S. and Mexican authorities resolve "one set of outstanding issues," Blas Nuñez-Nieto, acting assistant U.S. Homeland Security secretary for border and immigration policy, said in a court filing Monday. He did not elaborate. 

Caballero said U.S. authorities haven't pressured Mexico to reopen the busy pedestrian crossing between Tijuana and San Diego. U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a statement it is working closely with Mexico "to determine how to resume normal travel safely and sustainably."

The mayor plans to ask Mexico's National Guard to help prevent camps from popping up again in Tijuana.

"The reality is that camps are going to be established if we are unprepared," she said.

New Mexico State Police searching for boy in a custody case – Associated Press

New Mexico State Police were searching Thursday for a 10-year-old Albuquerque boy believed to be with his mother who no longer has custody of him.

They said Nicolai Kuznetsov was last seen on Nov. 5 and was believed to be with Jacqueline Haymon.

Albuquerque TV station KOAT reports that Haymon allegedly didn't want him to be vaccinated for COVID-19.

According to court documents, the boy's parents had joint custody. 

But a District Court judge on Thursday issued an emergency order which granted the boy's biological father custody due to the grave concern of the well-being and safety of the child, leading to an Amber Alert being issued.

State Police also said a bench warrant has been issued for Haymon's arrest.

Interior secretary seeks to rid US of derogatory place names – By Susan Montoya, Associated Press

U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on Friday formally declared "squaw" a derogatory term and said she is taking steps to remove it from federal government use and to replace other derogatory place names. 

Haaland is ordering a federal panel tasked with naming geographic places to implement procedures to eliminate what she called racist terms from federal use. The decision provides momentum to a movement that has included the dismantling of other historical markers and monuments considered offensive across the country.

"Our nation's lands and waters should be places to celebrate the outdoors and our shared cultural heritage — not to perpetuate the legacies of oppression," Haaland said in a statement. "Today's actions will accelerate an important process to reconcile derogatory place names and mark a significant step in honoring the ancestors who have stewarded our lands since time immemorial."

The first Native American to lead a Cabinet agency, Haaland is from Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico.

The U.S. Senate on Thursday confirmed Charles F. "Chuck" Sams III as head of the National Park Service, making him the first Native American to hold that position. Haaland previously said Sams, who is Cayuse and Walla Walla, of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon, would be an asset as the administration works to make national parks more accessible to everyone.

The Native American Rights Fund applauded Haaland's move to address derogatory place names, saying action by the federal government is long overdue.

"Names that still use derogatory terms are an embarrassing legacy of this country's colonialist and racist past," said John Echohawk, the group's executive director. "It is well past time for us, as a nation, to move forward, beyond these derogatory terms, and show Native people — and all people — equal respect."

Environmentalists also praised the action, saying it marked a step toward reconciliation.

Under Haaland's order, a federal task force will find replacement names for geographic features on federal lands bearing the term "squaw," which has been used as a slur, particularly for Indigenous women. A database maintained by the Board on Geographic Names shows there are more than 650 federal sites with names that contain the term.

The task force will be made up of representatives from federal land management agencies and experts with the Interior Department. Tribal consultation and public feedback will be part of the process.

The process for changing U.S. place names can take years, and federal officials said there are currently hundreds of proposed name changes pending before the board.

Haaland also called for the creation of an advisory committee to solicit, review and recommend changes to other derogatory geographic and federal place names. That panel will be made up of tribal representatives and civil rights, anthropology and history experts.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the Board on Geographic Names took action to eliminate the use of derogatory terms for Black and Japanese people. 

The board also voted in 2008 to change the name of a prominent Phoenix mountain from Squaw Peak to Piestewa Peak to honor Army Spc. Lori Piestewa, the first Native American woman to die in combat while serving in the U.S. military.

In California, the Squaw Valley Ski Resort changed its name to Palisades Tahoe earlier this year. The resort is in Olympic Valley, which was known as Squaw Valley until it hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics. Tribes in the region had been asking the resort for a name change for decades.

Colorado's advisory naming panel also has recommended renaming Squaw Mountain near Denver in honor of a Native American woman who acted as a translator for tribes and white settlers in the 19th century. Northern Cheyenne tribal members also filed an application with the federal naming board in October to change the mountain's name.

There is also legislation pending in Congress to address derogatory names on geographic features on public lands. States from Oregon to Maine have passed laws prohibiting the use of the word "squaw" in place names.

U.S. fossil fuel production will only increase in 2022, EIA forecasts – Nate Hegyi, Boise State Public Radio News, Mountain West News Bureau

Despite the Biden administration’s promise to reduce carbon emissions, a new federal report shows oil, gas and coal production in the U.S. is increasing. The U.S. Energy Information Administration says the rise is expected to last for at least another year and it’s fueled, in part, by high energy prices and extreme temperatures.

Unusually cold weather across the U.S. last February prompted more people to heat their homes and drained the nation’s natural gas reserves. That drove up prices and spurred increased production to get ready for this winter.

“Mild weather has limited natural gas consumption and helped bring our storage levels closer to average in recent weeks, but cold winter weather could continue to put upward pressure on prices,” said EIA Acting Administrator Steve Nalley. “Winter temperatures will be the key driver of natural gas demand, inventories and ultimately prices.”

The EIA’s short-term forecast says natural gas production will continue to rise into next year. In the meantime, those high prices are driving more energy providers to rely on cheaper coal for power instead. Coal production is expected to rise by about 5% next year. Meanwhile, high gasoline prices are helping spur more oil production. EIA analysts expect a 7% jump in crude oil production in 2022.

All of this is happening as President Joe Biden promises to reduce emissions. He addressed these inconsistencies at a press conference earlier this month in Glasgow, Scotland.

“No one has anticipated that this year we’d be in a position – or even next year – that we’re not going to use any more oil or gas, that we’re not going to be engaged in any fossil fuels,” he told reporters.

The EIA estimates that carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. from fossil fuels will rise through 2022.