TAPACHULA, Mexico ( Associated Press) – Mexican security and migration officials have ramped up their patrols, checkpoints and operations in the south of the country since the United States began expelling Venezuelan migrants last month.
The Mexican government has not said whether its security actions near the Guatemalan border are related to a change in US policy that virtually shuts the door on Venezuelans trying to enter the United States through Mexico. But these actions have unsettled migrants in the city of Tapachula, on Mexico’s southern tip.
Authorities have also been more proactive in dispersing smaller migrant caravans trying to head north from Tapachula.
For months, the government appeared to be encouraging small groups of migrants to leave Tapachula, to ease the growing pressure and despair in the city. It established a migration center that issued temporary documents, located at San Pedro Tapanatepec, about 290 kilometers (180 mi) to the northwest.
But a smaller caravan that left the city on Monday consisted of just 100 migrants. And officials dispersed two other groups that left them last week after traveling about 90 miles (145 kilometers).
Honduran Orle Castillo has been living in Tapachula’s Central Park with her 15-year-old son for a week. In that time, he has seen members of the National Guard and immigration chase down migrants, once detaining both of them until they presented documents applying for asylum.
Doris Medina of Venezuela and Omar Montalván of Ecuador tried to travel north to Tapachula by public transport, but in less than half an hour Montalván was detained and transferred to a detention center for migrants. They had evacuated other posts by disembarking from transports and surrounding the posts on foot.
However, many find a way to continue on their way north. Thousands of migrants wait for temporary documents at an immigration center set up in tents in San Pedro Tapanatepec.
Savi Arwe, advisor for the Migrant Rights and Justice Program at the Women’s Refugee Commission, visited the camp last week. He said between 12,000 and 17,000 migrants are waiting for temporary documents that prevent migrants from going through Oaxaca state.
On Wednesday, the mayor of San Pedro Tapanatepec, Humberto Parazales, said he was going to ask federal authorities to remove the immigration center from his city. In a video posted on his Facebook account, he explained that providing basic services to so many people has become difficult and that the city has cooperated as much as possible.
Arvey said the Mexican agency handling asylum claims does not have a presence in the camp, which limits migrants’ options. Unlike migrant camps in the country’s northern border towns, NGOs, including her own, do not have access to government tents.
Arwe says migrants sleep along the city’s main road, rent space on the ground or live inside government tents, although immigration officials deny this.
Some migrants try to use documents to go north, but officials risk tearing them up and sending the migrants back south.
Avery said immigration officials told him they process between 1,500 and 2,000 documents a day, but immigrants complained about wait times. “We talked to many people who have been here for a week or a month,” he said.
The National Migration Institute did not respond to questions about activities at the camp.
Many of those waiting are Venezuelan migrants confused about a policy Washington implemented last month that essentially closed the borders to them. Venezuelans may apply for temporary admission to the United States from abroad if they meet certain requirements, including the presence of a sponsor on American soil.
“Given how long this has been going on, there needs to be a huge human presence,” Arvey said. “It seems like people are spending more and more time there.”
Associated Press Writer Christopher Sherman contributed to this report from Mexico City.