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Misinformation feeds the false hopes of migrants after the deadly fire in Ciudad Juárez


Rumors that the United States would open its border after a fire at an immigration detention center is just one example of the misinformation fueling more border activity.

By NBC News'

Nicole Acevedo

and Albinson Linares

MEXICO CITY.- Migrants who have been trapped on Mexico's northern border for months in the hope of entering the United States are becoming more vulnerable to misinformation after the deadly fire at a government-run detention center that killed at least 39 people this week.

More than 1,000 migrants lined up at the international bridges in El Paso, Texas, Wednesday afternoon after false information spread on social media and by word of mouth that the United States would allow entry into the country.

The migrants, mostly Venezuelans, "surrendered" to US authorities, chief Border Patrol agent Anthony "Scott" Good tweeted.

Most of them, including Venezuelans, will not be able to request asylum in the United States when they cross the border, according to current immigration policies.

Migrants are processed by US border agents at the border with Ciudad Juárez on March 29, 2023. Guillermo Arias / AFP - Getty Images

The incident prompted the United States Consulate in Ciudad Juárez to share a post on social media in Spanish with a message for migrants: "Don't be fooled."

"The rumors about the opening of the border after the tragedy in Ciudad Juárez are completely false. The policies to enforce the law and the security measures to restrict the access without documents to the United States are still in force. The border is closed to irregular migration".

The United States has expanded the use of a pandemic-related policy known as Title 42 to remove migrants who cross the border.

On May 11, the policy will be replaced by one that largely bars asylum for anyone who has traveled through Mexico without first applying for protection there.

More than 1,000 migrants "surrendered" to Border Patrol agents in El Paso, Texas.@USBPChiefEPT via Twitter

"You can't compete with hope"

Betty Camargo, director of state programs for the Border Network for Human Rights, said she was in contact Wednesday with a migrant who was taking a group to the border in hopes that they would be allowed into the United States.

The migrant told Camargo that many felt angry, fearful and insecure after the fire at the Ciudad Juárez temporary immigration station killed 39 people and injured dozens more in one of the deadliest migrant tragedies to occur near the border between the United States and Mexico in recent years.

"We try to explain to them that the rumors are not true, but sometimes you can't compete with hope," Camargo said.

"Let it not go unpunished": migrants ask for justice for the death of 39 people in a detention center

March 30, 202301:35

This is not the first time that misinformation has caused large numbers of migrants to present themselves at different US ports of entry. Two weeks ago, large groups of migrants clashed with federal agents at the Paso del Norte international bridge, that connects Ciudad Juárez and El Paso.

At that time, Camilo Cruz, spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, a United Nations agency, attributed the gathering of migrants to a "rumor that they were going to let them through en masse, especially those who arrived with children." reported The Associated Press.

["This fire is the result of the pressure cooker that Ciudad Juárez has become on the immigration issue," experts denounce]

Blanca Navarrete, director of Derechos Humanos Integrales en Acción, a Ciudad Juárez-based organization that provides services to migrants, said a Peruvian woman who had heard rumors and acted on those false reports stopped by her office on Wednesday in her media outlet. their journey to El Paso.

The woman and her son had been walking for so long that the boy's last pair of shoes had broken and he could not continue.

Navarrete told the woman that the rumors that the United States was going to let everyone in were not true.

The activist claims the rumor started after an anonymous user posted the message to a Facebook group used by migrants trying to navigate CBP One, an app asylum seekers must use to be shortlisted and then get appointments with specific dates and ports of entry to the United States.

The message was spread by WhatsApp and by word of mouth.

Migrant families are separated due to the difficulty of applying for asylum with the CBP One application

March 3, 202301:46

Problems with the CBP One app have also created a sense of hopelessness among many migrant families trying to get asylum appointments.

Gabriela Muñoz Cano, a project manager at the Las Americas Defense Center in Ciudad Juárez, said she knows families who have been trying to get an appointment through the app since January.

According to Muñoz Cano, as they run out of resources to stay safely in Ciudad Juárez, migrants are increasingly vulnerable to misinformation about how to get to the United States.

Scammers posing as lawyers ask them for money to supposedly help them get an appointment on the app, she said.

However, getting appointments through CBP One is free.

"Many lies are told"

While Facebook can help migrants stay in touch and get information throughout their journey, it is also where misinformation targeting migrants at the border flourishes, especially in Spanish.

Last year, the Tech Transparency Project identified two Facebook groups, with the same moderator, that generated "a constant stream of content aimed at migrants in Mexico."

[Migrants who were saved from dying in the fire in Ciudad Juárez recount the hours before the tragedy]

It also detected "an abundance of posts spreading misinformation about immigration law, conditions along the route to the United States, and the opportunities available to migrants to the United States," especially on Facebook and WhatsApp.

This type of misinformation reached the social networks of Carmen González, a 23-year-old Venezuelan.

González said she and other friends began their journey from Venezuela to Mexico after seeing a news story that falsely claimed that Venezuelans could enter the US without being deported.

"We always see things on Instagram and Facebook, there they tell us to travel, that people are going to the United States," said González, who is in Ciudad Juárez.

"And you get excited and then you go on a trip, you have a lot of work and then they don't let you go north," she explains discouraged.

"Worse than a jail": migrant who was detained describes the center that caught fire in Mexico

March 29, 202303:38

"I tell people not to believe what they read on Facebook, because many lies are told there," González explains.

"People are completely uninformed because they see posts on Facebook or because they found out that something worked for someone and they hit the road without immigration documentation, and without plans," said Lorena Cano, coordinator of the legal clinic of the Institute for Women in la Migration, a civil association that defends the rights of migrant women.

[Activists denounce the inhumane conditions in detention centers in Mexico: overcrowding and deficient facilities]

In February, large groups of migrants showed up at a specific point near the US-Canada border after false information emerged that the two countries had reached an agreement and that the US was going to take the migrants by bus. to Canada.

The false information first appeared on social networks and was later spread, according to Camargo, by someone who went to the shelters and even by another person that the migrants describe as an immigration official.

When many of the migrants showed up at the point, they realized that this was not true.

"They are playing with their lives," Camargo said.

"Not only are they taking away their right to migrate from migrants, but little by little they are taking away their hope."

Nicole Acevedo reported from New York and Albinson Linares from Mexico City. 

Source: telemundo

All news articles on 2023-03-31

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