TECATE, Calif. – Edgar Alexis Lopez looks well-rested in photos he took before crossing the border illegally in mountains east of San Diego, flashing a wide grin in clean jeans.
Six hours later, the 24-year-old Mexican construction worker was out of water, exhausted after climbing over the border wall and convinced he would faint. Abandoned by his smuggling guide, he and his father called for help.
A rescue helicopter couldn't land in the steep terrain, but authorities dropped water before border agents arrived and whisked them back to Tijuana, Mexico. Lopez quickly recovered and began planning another attempt to reach San Diego, where he hopes to earn a more steady living. He tried twice more in the following days, turning around before he got caught.
“You enter and leave, enter and leave, enter and leave,” Lopez said during a lunch break at his job in a Tijuana supermarket, where he was saving money for a fourth attempt. “You have nothing to lose besides the physical strain.”
After a slew of profound changes by the Trump administration to limit asylum, the coronavirus brought it to a halt. With immigration laws largely suspended at the border since March, Mexicans and people from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador who enter the U.S. illegally are immediately expelled without even a piece of paper, generally within two hours and with no chance to plead for asylum — the post-Holocaust system to protect people around the world from torture and persecution at home. Facing no consequences, migrants are more determined to keep trying until they succeed.
The suspension of asylum combined with the introduction of “express deportations,” as migrants call them, accelerated a shift in who is crossing the border illegally: more Mexican men who come for economic reasons and far fewer from Central America, Africa and elsewhere seeking asylum.
Dismantling asylum may be the most significant way President Donald Trump has reshaped the immigration system, which he has arguably done more to change than any U.S. president. He's thrilled supporters with an “America first” message and infuriated critics who call his signature domestic issue insular, xenophobic and even racist.
Before the election, The Associated Press is examining some of Trump’s immigration policies, including restrictions on international students, a retreat from America’s humanitarian role and now a virtual shutdown of asylum.