'Praying that Biden wins': Asylum seekers hold their breath as U.S. votes

MONTERREY, Mexico (Reuters) – In a makeshift refugee camp just across the border from Brownsville, Texas, Oscar Borjas and a few friends are planning to gather on Tuesday night to watch anxiously as results from the U.S. presidential election roll in.

Cuban migrants, under the “Remain in Mexico” program, work in a barbershop while awaiting their immigration hearing in the United States, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico November 3, 2020. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

Borjas, a Honduran asylum seeker who has spent the last year living in a cold and unsanitary encampment in Matamoros, Mexico, is not a U.S. voter.

He is among the tens of thousands of migrants whose lives have been upended by the Trump administration’s immigration policies – and who are now praying for Republican President Donald Trump’s Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, to win the election.

“We’re all hoping for Biden,” he said.

From Tijuana to Matamoros, asylum seekers stranded along the border by the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy are holding their breath as Americans head to the polls. Over a dozen interviewed by Reuters say they believe a Biden victory would offer them a better chance of escaping dangerous Mexican border towns and entering the United States while pursuing their asylum cases.

“I’m here praying. I’m not religious but I’m still praying that Trump’s forced out,” said Yuri Gonzalez, a Cuban asylum seeker who has spent more than a year and a half stranded in Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas, as he waits for his asylum claim to be processed by U.S. courts.

“A man who’s spent four years separating families and fueling racist violence doesn’t deserve to be president,” he added, speaking as he cut hair in the barber shop where he works.

The Trump administration has enacted a series of overlapping policies, including “Remain in Mexico,” that have made it all but impossible to request asylum at the U.S. southern border.

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The administration says these measures, including “Remain in Mexico,” have succeeded in curbing immigration to the United States and discouraging “false asylum claims.”

Some migrants interviewed by Reuters were well aware that Biden has promised to end the program “Remain in Mexico” on his first day in office. Others were not familiar with his name.

But from coast to coast, more than a dozen asylum seekers were unanimous: anyone but Trump.

“I don’t know all the policy proposals of the other candidate who isn’t Trump, but I know he doesn’t think the same way,” said Santos, a Honduran asylum seeker in the western city of Tijuana who declined to give his last name. He said he encouraged all his family members in the United States to vote against Trump.

Many asylum seekers, including Santos, expressed anger not only over “Remain in Mexico,” but over other immigration-related issues, particularly the separation of families.

“I came here by myself out of fear that the same thing could happen to us,” said Santos, explaining that although he fears for the safety of his children back in Honduras, he also worried they might have gotten lost in U.S. custody if they were separated from him.

Back on the other side of Mexico, Borjas is planning to hold his Election Night “watch party” on the concrete steps next to the refugee camp’s cell-phone charging station, since the encampment’s hundreds of asylum seekers live in tents without electricity.

“Biden’s wife came here to Matamoros and promised to help us, and that’s the hope we’re holding onto,” he said.

(For an interactive look at Reuters polling, including on the U.S. election, open polling.reuters.com/ in a separate browser)

(For an interactive graphic on where Trump and Biden stand on the issues open here in a separate browser)  

(Multimedia U.S. election coverage  here)

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