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Mexican lawyer fights deportation of his own father

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As an intense crackdown on illegal immigration hits the southern border, a movement is building to help those who have been deported from the US shelter themselves on their way to the United States, where they hope to seek asylum.

This new, controversial reform of an immigration process built for white, heterosexual, Christian migrants is still in its infancy, but advocates say it could have a major impact on the number of people attempting to cross the southern border legally.

“We have this mindset that we’re going to be able to welcome them with open arms,” Juan Gabriel Reyes, the Mexican attorney representing Antonio Rodríguez Moncada, said of the White House’s agenda for immigration. “All we need is a little time.”

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Moncada, a Mexican father of four, arrived at the US-Mexico border at Nogales, Arizona, late last year.

Moncada crossed the border from Mexico, where he was put in a holding facility in Juarez, on 25 January. When the federal government let him go, he quickly bought a bus ticket to El Paso, Texas, and set off on foot, walking for 10 days to the Paso del Norte Bridge, the sole official border crossing between the two countries.

In the months leading up to Moncada’s deportation, and in response to other high-profile detentions and deportations, advocates for asylum seekers created a food pantry to help pick up the slack as many shelters close, or become “wild west” spaces that people using “spontaneous” crossings — people walking through the desert without official authorization — often find themselves caught.

Terra Tene, the building Tijuana developed with the aid of a US legal aid group, sits in a population-rich, open city and close to some of the largest swaths of agricultural land in North America. Its location, affording it access to mass transit, is also important to Montecada.

Torne, like many US-based providers of migrant rights services, has no waiting room, and has offered a full menu of legal assistance to undocumented migrants whose only problem is the border, not their residence in the United States.

Torne’s business opened in October and is doing well. Pedro Rava, a Mexican asylum attorney who helped set up Terra Tene, says he has seen an influx of migrants who were previously eligible for asylum and, with this newfound access to services, are seeing them better navigate the system.

Rakaa says that since October, more than 200 migrants have come through his building.

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Currently, because the bus transfer process takes place on a few different routes, Moncada was able to reach Monterrey, Mexico, the third largest city in Mexico — and another city where people have been heard by the immigration court on a local route. Moncada met the coordinator for the migrant shelter in Monterrey, who referred him to the immigration judge there. Now Moncada has a chance to defend himself before the immigration court in El Paso.

“I couldn’t save my family for four years, and they’re back. So I came to my own country,” Moncada said, fiddling with a wild blue butterfly on his head, and scraping cheese off his fingers from the gritty soil.

But today, the hardest part for Moncada is securing food, which is often far in reaching in the mountains, and finding a safe space to sleep.

He is sleeping in a cage in an overcrowded encampment of migrants in Ciudad Juárez, a city that last year experienced the deadliest violence in Mexico’s recent history. The rivers around Ciudad Juárez have now become “grey cemeteries”, according to Ramirez Angeles, a psychiatrist who studies violence in Ciudad Juárez, as gang battles rage across the city.

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