Mexico moves migrants away from borders to ease pressure

MEXICO CITY — Mexico is flying migrants south from the US border and busing new arrivals from its border with Guatemala to ease pressure on its border towns.

In the week since Washington lifted pandemic-era restrictions on asylum seekers at the border, US authorities have reported a dramatic drop in attempts to cross illegally. In Mexico, officials generally try to keep migrants south of the border, a strategy that may temporarily reduce crossings, but experts say is not sustainable.

In the week since the policy change, the Border Patrol has seen an average of 4,000 encounters a day with people crossing between the ports, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security reported Friday. This is down dramatically from the daily average of more than 10,000 immediately prior.

Between migrants who rushed to cross the border in the days before the U.S. policy shift and Mexico’s efforts to move others inside the country, shelters in northern border towns are now below capacity.

But migrant shelters in southern Mexico are full, and the government is moving hundreds of migrants more than 200 miles north to relieve pressure in Tapachula, near Guatemala. The government also said it deployed hundreds of additional National Guard troops to the south last week.

On Friday night, the Mexican immigration office offered to fly the migrants camped in central Mexico City, mostly Haitians, to Huixtla, a town near Tapachula, to house them and speed up the processing of their documents, said Rep. Alma Rubí Pérez. the immigration office in the country’s capital.

Segismundo Doguín, Mexico’s top immigration official in the border state of Tamaulipas, across from Texas, said last week that the government would fly out as many migrants as needed from the border cities of Reynosa and Matamoros.

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The transfers were “lateral movements to other parts of the country” where there were not as many migrants, Doguín said. He called these “voluntary humanitarian transfers”.

The Associated Press confirmed that Mexican flights from Matamoros, Reynosa and Piedras Negras have carried migrants to the interior over the past week. A federal official in Mexico, who was not authorized to speak publicly but agreed to discuss the case if not quoted by name, said about 300 migrants were being transported south each day.

They included at least some of the 1,100 migrants from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Haiti and Cuba that the United States sent back to Mexico in the week since the policy change.

“So the northern part of the migration route has emptied out a little bit, but the southern and central parts are still extremely full and steadily filling up,” said Adam Isacson, WOLA’s director of conservation oversight and a close observer of the border. a human rights organization based in Washington. “Obviously, it’s a balance that can’t last long.”

Mexico has previously moved migrants south when there were concerns about the capacity of northern border towns, but this time there were other factors at play.

While migrant shelters in the south of the country are full, Mexico’s national immigration agency has closed smaller migrant detention centers across the country and overhauled large ones after 40 migrants died in a fire at a small border detention center. The city of Ciudad Juarez in March.

The federal official said Mexico’s largest immigration detention centers are mostly empty. Two other federal officials, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said Friday that “Siglo XXI,” Mexico’s largest prison, is empty.

Tonatiuh Guillén, the former head of Mexico’s national immigration agency, says Mexico’s actions are contradictory — both telling the U.S. they are detaining migrants in the south and detaining fewer.

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One morning this week, hundreds of migrants waited on the outskirts of the southern city of Tapachula for government buses to take them to Tuxtla Gutierrez, about 230 miles to the north.

Guillén said that the document that Mexico has just issued for some migrants in Tuxtla Gutierrez – the deportation order, which gives migrants days or a few weeks to leave the country – leaves them with no other option, making it difficult for them to apply for international protection.

Edwin Flores from Guatemala tried to get to the United States alone, but when he heard about the government buses in Tapachula, he decided to give it a try.

“They didn’t tell us exactly what kind of permit they were giving us, just that we had to continue with the paperwork there in Tuxtla Gutierrez,” Flores said. Other migrants reported arriving there but not receiving any documents.

“We’ve been hearing about the changes in the law they’re making and mass deportations from the United States,” Flores said. But that didn’t change his plans, “because the goal is to arrive and see for yourself what’s going on.”

He said he would like to request an appointment from the American authorities to make arrangements for asylum. He said he was a private security guard in Guatemala and gangs tried to recruit him as their eyes on the street.

On Wednesday, Mexico’s UN refugee agency said it was concerned about the pressure on migrant hostels in southern Mexico and Mexico City. “In addition to people coming from the south, some shelters have already accepted Venezuelans deported from the United States,” the agency said on Twitter.

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A Venezuelan who gave only his first name, Pedro, to avoid repercussions, said this week that he entered the United States illegally last week, just before the policy change, but was sent back to Mexico in Piedras Negras.

“They put us on a bus, gave us snacks and took us to the airport,” said the 43-year-old, who had previously been granted legal residency in Mexico. He was talking about a migrant shelter known as “The 72” in Tenosique, near the Guatemalan border. “They left us in an industrial area of ​​Villahermosa. They let us go there, and I came here defeated.”

In the midst of the whole movement, migrants are easy targets. Gangs kidnapped them off the streets of border towns and by the busload in north-central Mexico.

This week, a busload of migrants disappeared near the border between the states of San Luis Potosi and Nuevo Leon. According to the migrants, they were kidnapped by a drug cartel when their bus stopped at a gas station. They traveled from the southern state of Chiapas.

Officials of the bus company first reported the kidnapping on Tuesday, telling local media that they demanded $1,500 each for the migrants’ release.

In the days following the abduction, 49 people — including Hondurans, Haitians, Venezuelans, Salvadorans and Brazilians — were found, but authorities were not entirely sure how many of them were on the bus.

“Whose hands are the wanderers?” asked Alejandra Conde, who works at “The 72” migrant shelter in Tenosique, one of the largest in southeastern Mexico. It’s like “a Machiavellian strategy between the authorities and organized crime”.


Clemente reported from Tapachula, Mexico. Associated Press writer Christopher Sherman in Mexico City contributed to this report.