JUÁREZ, Mexico (CN) — Jesús Montoya stretched out on his stomach at the very edge of this place that calls the river the Río Bravo. Propped up on his elbows, he looked out of the tent facing the country that calls it the Rio Grande and smiled.
“I’m happy,” said Montoya, 39, who exuded positivity despite the uncertainty besetting him. “I never thought I’d make it here. Just getting here is a dream, a success.”
Behind him lay over 3,000 miles fraught with dangers: the swift currents and deadly caprice of the rivers of the Darién Gap, the brutality of police and immigration forces, the elements and organized crime. Back there were also the $2,600 he spent to get here and the family he left in Venezuela: his mother, father, brother and three children aged 5, 12 and 14.
Despite its names, the Rio Grande is neither big nor fierce. Here it is low enough for migrants from other countries to wade across in order to turn themselves into U.S. immigration authorities on the other side.
It is not the river that stops the more than 1,500 Venezuelan migrants camped out on its banks from entering the United States, but rather the recent change in policy concerning citizens of the pariah state whose economy has been decimated largely thanks to U.S. sanctions.
For Montoya and hundreds of others camped out by the river, the legal pathway for some 24,000 Venezuelans via the new humanitarian parole program implemented in October is out of reach. The program presents a sufficient number of hurdles to nullify their eligibility. They must be sponsored by a citizen or permanent resident of the United States, have a valid passport and not hold refugee status in another country, among other requirements. They must also enter via air on a flight purchased with their own funds.
The migrants at the encampment who spoke to Courthouse News had met one or some of the requirements, but not all, making them ineligible for the program. Over 6,800 Venezuelans have been approved to enter the United States through the program as of Oct. 31, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
A DHS spokesperson told Courthouse News that “initial data shows that when there is a lawful and orderly way, people are less inclined to put lives in the hands of smugglers.”
None of the Venezuelan migrants interviewed said they had plans to hire the services of a smuggler, but it was not because of the humanitarian parole program. Rather, they did not have the money to pay a coyote, or smuggler. That service goes for as much as $8,000 these days, and most here lacked the funds even to feed themselves.
So now, they wait. And hope.
“We still don’t know what’s going to happen to us here,” said Montoya. “In the meantime, I’ll behave myself, and I think hard-hearted people will soften up a bit and maybe they’ll give us the opportunity to cross.”
However, there is no telling how long they could be left waiting for such a development, and nighttime lows in Juárez are beginning to flirt with freezing.
“I don’t think the Biden administration is going to go back to allowing Venezuelans to seek asylum,” said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel and border issues specialist at the American Immigration Council.
While many migrants said their faith in God was the basis for their hope, most also cited a mistaken belief that President Biden had previously invited Venezuelans to come apply for asylum at the border.
“We came like this because it’s what the president told us to do,” said José Raga, a 38-year-old father of three who was in southern Mexico when he heard the news of the policy change in October. “We sold everything, the cars, the house, the fridge, the TV.”