The door to the U.S. has been shut tight to asylum seekers since last March, about the time when Janiana first arrived in Tijuana, when the Trump administration issued an order at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic that every migrant — child or adult — would be immediately “expelled” back to Mexico or their home country if they attempted to cross the border, without even a chance to make a case that the persecution they face qualifies them to stay. After he took office this year, Joe Biden kept the policy largely in place, but began to admit unaccompanied minors even while continuing to expel both adults and children who enter with families. Since the shift in policy, some parents and guardians have made the devastating decision, calculated only out of desperation, to send their children off ahead of them, alone, to cross the border.
The result is a new form of family separation — but instead of happening at the hands of federal agents in American government facilities, it’s taking place, family by family, in camps like the one Janiana lives in. The fact that minors won’t be expelled like everyone else has rapidly spread by word of mouth across the length of the border. And while many families choose to stick together, the pressure to separate weighs heaviest on the most vulnerable — families who fear death, whether from persecutors who have followed them to the border, or from extreme hunger.