At first, the boy running around this migrant shelter in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, appears to be just like any other 8-year-old: Skinny, shy, giggly. You don’t even notice his glass eye.
But it’s a constant source of worry for his family, who fled Guatemala earlier this year. The boy, Jonathan, lost his eye to a tumour when he was a toddler. Now he needs medication to keep the attention clean.
Giovani says that care has been hard for the family to get in Juarez, the border town across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas. And they’re afraid to leave their church-run shelter to find care in this Mexican city where crime is rampant, and migrants targeted.
More than 15,000 migrants — including roughly 5,000 children — have been returned to Juarez and other border cities under the so-called “Remain in Mexico” policy. The migrants are waiting in those cities for their day in U.S. immigration courts.
While U.S. citizens are steadily warned by the State Department not to visit these border cities out of safety concerns, that’s precisely where thousands of migrants are amassing after being returned to Mexico by the Department of Homeland Safety.
Homeland Safety says it’s going to make exceptions for “vulnerable” migrants on a case-by-case basis. Its guidance states that migrants with “known physical/mental health issues” should not be sent back to Mexico below the new policy.
But in practice, migrant advocates say, that’s what’s happening.
Giovani’s says his family left Guatemala when his coffee farm failed, gangs tried to extort him, and the medical bills got to be too much. They waited months for a chance to legally enter the United States at a port of entry, and ask for asylum.
Giovani says he explained his son’s medical needs to U.S. immigration officials in El Paso. But it didn’t make any difference.