Pago Chiquito, Panama. – One by one, long wooden boats full of migrants in orange lifejackets arrived, scooping up the Turquesa River and propelled by outboard motors.
At the end of the day, authorities had registered 2,000 migrants on this remote stretch of river at the edge of the Darien Forest that joins Panama and Colombia.
Some have vague information – from their relatives, social networks and smugglers – about the upcoming change in border policy by the US government and rush to that far frontier.
On May 11, the US government will end pandemic-related restrictions on people seeking asylum at the border — also known as Title 42, under which immigrants have been turned away from the US 2.8 million times since March 2020.
Migrant smugglers have used the uncertainty of what will happen after the restrictions end, as well as the possibility of new asylum restrictions, to create an unnecessary sense of urgency for people to make decisions with false information.
Fearing an increase in arrivals, US officials have expanded legal pathways, urging potential immigrants to register before making the trip and proposing severe asylum restrictions for people traveling through Mexico.
Those who do not qualify will be deported and a five-year ban on re-entry into the country will apply.
As migrants cross the Darien River, there have been no clear signs of efforts promised a month ago by the United States, Panama and Colombia to reduce migration at the bottleneck between these regions.
In Nicocli, Colombia, between 1,000 and 1,200 migrants per day board boats that take them to the Bay of Akande on the Colombian side of the Darien River, according to local human rights authorities.
The smugglers charge $10,000 and don’t tell them they will be fired.
For months, the US government has encouraged immigrants to sign up for the CBP One online application rather than make the dangerous trek to the border.
If applicants qualify for asylum and have a financial sponsor in the United States, they will receive an appointment at the border for further review.
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