“The Right Way”: From Venezuela to Juárez and New York to Denver, One Family’s Asylum Journey

“The Right Way”: From Venezuela to Juárez and New York to Denver, One Family’s Asylum Journey 1

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up to receive our biggest stories as soon as they’re published.

This article is co-published with The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan local newsroom that informs and engages with Texans. Sign up for The Brief Weekly to get up to speed on their essential coverage of Texas issues.

The Pabón family is among the nearly 8 million Venezuelans who have left their country in the last decade, fleeing an authoritarian regime and a collapsed economy — one of the largest population displacements in the world.

The family arrived in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico — across the border from El Paso, Texas — on Dec. 1, 2022, following a six-month journey across seven countries and thousands of miles. They’d left their homeland at a time when the United States had agreed to suspend the deportations of Venezuelans who were already living in the country because Washington had broken diplomatic relations with that country’s president, Nicolás Maduro. Thousands of new Venezuelan migrants arrived in Mexican border cities like Juárez hoping to take advantage of the opening.

But by the time the Pabóns arrived, the U.S. had reversed course and subjected Venezuelans to many of the same immigration restrictions as people of other nationalities. They were required to use a special app, called CBP One, to make an appointment to enter the U.S. to seek asylum. In El Paso, there were about 150 appointments available a day. Suddenly, the Pabóns found themselves stranded with countless other tired and frustrated migrants in a city of 1.5 million residents that lacked the resources to provide for the staggering number of new arrivals.

The pressure-cooker situation culminated in a fire on March 27, 2023, inside the city’s only immigration detention center. It killed 40 immigrants and injured more than two dozen others in one of the deadliest incidents involving immigrants in the country’s history.

Five months later, the Pabón family managed to get an appointment via the CBP One app and cross into the U.S. They eventually applied for asylum, but after joining a migrant population ever more numerous and visible and without family roots or acquaintances in the country, a clear path for them remains elusive.