DAVID GREENE, HOST:
All right. So one thing President-elect Biden has pledged to do is reverse many of the Trump administration's tough immigration policies. That's given many asylum-seekers in Mexico and Central America hope for their future. NPR's Carrie Kahn has a look.
CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: When television networks called the presidential race for Joe Biden, a Salvadoran woman named Sandra (ph) says she and hundreds of other migrants screamed their hearts out.
SANDRA: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: "We were jumping for joy screaming out Trump," says the 42-year-old who lives in a squalid border camp in Matamoros, Mexico, on the banks of the Rio Grande River. Sandra's euphoria, though, turns to tears as she explains how she and her two young daughters ended up there. NPR agreed to use only her first name. She's worried about endangering her family in El Salvador.
SANDRA: (Through interpreter) There just came a time when we couldn't stand the fear anymore.
KAHN: She says gangs had driven everyone out of her neighborhood and told her weekly extortion payments were no longer enough. They wanted her house and would kill her for it.
SANDRA: (Through interpreter) So I fled.
KAHN: Sandra says she made it to the U.S. border in October of last year and asked U.S. agents for asylum. She was detained for a week, then sent back to Mexico to wait out her case in a program begun under President Trump. Tens of thousands of asylum-seekers have been sent back to Mexico under that policy, commonly known as Remain in Mexico. Sandra says she's hopeful the new president will end the program. Biden has said as much, even denouncing it during the final presidential debate last month.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JOE BIDEN: This is the first president of the United States of America that's - anybody seeking asylum has to do it in another country. That's never happened before in America.
KAHN: Trump says his policy deters illegal immigration and Biden's approach will just encourage more migrants to head north. But lawyer Erin Thorn Vela with the Texas Civil Rights Project says migrants have a right under U.S. law to access the asylum process. She says under Trump, nearly every avenue to do so has been closed. Still, she says...
ERIN THORN VELA: Folks are coming even though they're being discouraged because they're afraid.
KAHN: In fact, in 2019, the number of migrants apprehended at the U.S. southern border reached a five-year high. After the coronavirus shutdowns, the numbers plummeted but are now rising again.
ARIEL: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: Ariel (ph) a 27-year-old Honduran says he and his family recently tried to head to the U.S. They joined a migrant caravan last month that was stopped in Guatemala. They were among hundreds bused back to Honduras. He says they'll try again.
ARIEL: (Through interpreter) Really, I'm not going because they elected a new president. No, not because of that. I'm going because I can't live here anymore.
KAHN: NPR agreed to use only Ariel's first name because he says his life is in danger. He's currently hiding in a Honduran city after being kidnapped and beaten for not paying extortion to a gang. His wife was also kidnapped and raped by the same gang.
ARIEL: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: "I can't live with this trauma, this fear anymore," he says. As soon as he can, he and his family will set off again for the U.S. border, joining an exodus that is sure to challenge the incoming Biden administration. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.