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With Texas' border law in limbo, some migrants are worried. Others are undaunted

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The legal battle over Texas' border enforcement law continues this week. On Wednesday, a federal appeals court will hear arguments on the law. If enacted, it would give local and state law enforcement officers the power to arrest anyone suspected of crossing the border illegally into Texas. With the law in limbo, many migrants are worried and confused, though some are undaunted, as Angela Kocherga of member station KTEP reports from El Paso.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ANGELA KOCHERGA, BYLINE: Native dancers led the way as an interfaith coalition marched through downtown El Paso. Religious leaders and groups that help migrants spoke against Texas' controversial border enforcement law. Southwest Episcopal Bishop Michael Hunn's diocese encompasses 40% of the border, including a stretch of West Texas.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHAEL HUNN: We will stand together. And we will not tolerate having our religious freedoms restricted by asking us to find out if they have papers before we treat people as a neighbor.

KOCHERGA: The faith-based Hope Border Institute recently organized this march they call Do Not Be Afraid. Luis Lopez from Venezuela says it's not that simple.

LUIS LOPEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KOCHERGA: "Migrants are very afraid," Lopez says. He arrived in the U.S. in 2022 with his family. He has a temporary work permit from the federal government while he waits for a court decision on his asylum case. But now he's unsure if he's at risk of deportation if the new law takes effect.

LOPEZ: (Through interpreter) If you're released by ICE or immigration officials with a paper, with a permit, now you have another fear.

KOCHERGA: That's the fear this new Texas law has cast over many migrants here.

(SOUNDBITE OF HELICOPTER HUMMING)

KOCHERGA: Along the border a few miles away, you can see the state versus federal tensions playing out in real time. Texas National Guard troops stand watch. They've put up a temporary chain link fence topped with mounds of razor wire. It's all to keep migrants from reaching the towering, permanent federal border barrier made of steel, where people usually try to turn themselves into border patrol, asking for asylum.

JORDAN ROSALES: (Speaking Spanish).

KOCHERGA: Jordan Rosales says he arrived at this spot a few days ago with his 1-month-old baby girl and wife. They came from Venezuela. They're staying in a tent made of sticks and blankets near the banks of the Rio Grande on U.S. soil, near the chain link fence.

ROSALES: (Through interpreter) The cartel grabbed me. They almost ripped my finger off. Look at my finger. They were going to hit me on the head with a gun, pistol-whipping. But I put my hand up, and they hit my finger instead.

KOCHERGA: Rosales shows me his swollen finger. All the migrants tell me they're more afraid of staying in Mexico than any new law in Texas. For her part, Jennifer Casas says she's confused about the new law but will not turn back after all she's risked to make it here from Venezuela with her 5-year-old son.

JENNIFER CASAS: (Through interpreter) My son had a birthday here three days ago. We've experienced hunger. We've experienced thirst. We've experienced cold. And there was a big dust storm.

KOCHERGA: Another Venezuelan, Andres Aguilar, says he and other migrants here are determined to turn themselves into federal authorities and ask for asylum.

ANDRES AGUILAR: (Through interpreter) Because they are afraid to go back to their country. They've experienced such desperation. They prefer to stay here and cross.

KOCHERGA: "With the luck of God," Aguilar says, "we will make it." For NPR News, I'm Angela Kocherga in El Paso.

(SOUNDBITE OF BADBADNOTGOOD AND GHOSTFACE KILLAH SONG, "GUNSHOWERS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Emmy winning multimedia journalist Angela Kocherga is news director with KTEP and Borderzine. She is also multimedia editor with ElPasoMatters.org, an independent news organization.