Uncertainty in US fuels migrant camps in Mexico

TIJUANA, Mexico ( Associated Press) – As night fell, some 250 police officers and municipal workers entered a large camp of people hoping to apply for asylum in the United States. Migrants will have to register to get their credentials or leave. Within hours, those left were surrounded by a chain link fence double the height of the Statue of Liberty.

The 28 October operation may have spelled the end of a settlement that once held about 2,000 men and a major border crossing with the United States. But new ones may emerge.

America’s First Lady Jill Biden, on a 2019 visit, raised a similar slogan in Matamoros, across the border from Brownsville, Texas, saying, “This is not who we Americans are.” President Joe Biden’s administration publicized its dismantling in March, but others appeared in nearby Reynosa and Tijuana around the same time.

The camps, full of young children, are the product of policies that force migrants to wait in Mexico for hearings in US immigration courts or bar them from seeking asylum as part of public health measures related to the coronavirus pandemic. Uncertainty over Washington’s asylum policies has also contributed to the growth of migrant populations in Mexican border cities, leading to the birth of more settlements.

Migrants are not usually visible in those cities, but the camp in Tijuana is highly visible and disturbing. Their tents covered in blue wire and black plastic bags block the entrance to a border crossing through which an average of 12,000 people passed into the United States daily before the pandemic. It is one of three pedestrian crossings to San Diego.

The United States fully reopened its land borders with Mexico and Canada on November 8 to fully vaccinate travelers.

Montserrat Caballero, Tijuana’s first female mayor, said officials did “almost nothing” to control the agreement before taking office on October 1. And when he asked Mexico’s state and federal governments to join the fencing and search, they declined.

“Since it was such a public matter, officials at all levels were afraid to make a mistake, afraid to do something wrong and his political career would be affected,” he said during an interview. “No one wants to touch the issues.”

Caballero said he worked to protect the migrants. He knows there have been no murders or kidnappings in the area, but the Associated Press found that assaults, drug use and threats are common.

“I can’t take my eyes off the red light I saw,” he said. “Closing your eyes only makes you grow better.”

The only access point is controlled 24 hours a day by the Tijuana Police. With identification, migrants can freely enter and exit.

Enrique Lucero, director of municipal services for migrants, explained to people who were asked about US policy during a morning tour of the campus last week, “There is no asylum process right now (in the United States) until further notice. “

Since March 2020, Washington has used the designated Title 42 for public health legislation to remove adults and families without opportunity of asylum. The exceptions are unaccompanied minors. But the Biden administration has exercised that authority over just one in four families, largely because of a lack of resources and Mexico’s reluctance to welcome Central American families.

Why the United States releases many asylum-seeking families and deports others to Mexico, prompting them to stay near the border until they achieve their goals.

Myra Funes, 28, of Honduran, said she had no chance to explain her case to agents when she was fired in March after being trafficked with her 7-year-old daughter near McAllen, Texas. He doesn’t know whether he will try again after six months at the Tijuana camp.

“There is no hope of when it will open,” he said.

Lucero, a soft-spoken George Washington University graduate who works at the Mexican consulate in Chicago, said his job is to persuade migrants to move to shelters, including a large facility recently opened by federal and state officials. Many reject this option because of curfews and the rules governing their operation, as well as concerns that being away from the border would prevent them from learning about changes in Washington’s policies.

37-year-old Natalina Nazario didn’t have to be persuaded: she stopped Lucero and accepted the city’s offer to pay for a bus ticket to Acapulco, which would take her and her 17- and 11-year-olds for about 3,000 kilometers (about 3,000 km). 1,900 miles). .. She fears violence in the coastal town, but after a month in the settlement she doesn’t want her kids to miss classes.

Few others noted Lucero’s presence. Olga Galicia, a 23-year-old Guatemalan woman, was washing clothes in a plastic bucket filled with soap and water. She stayed at the camp for about six months and said she would be with her 1-year-old and 3-year-old sons until she could gather more information on how to apply for asylum in the United States.

Tijuana will not forcefully remove any migrants, said Caballero, who expects the remaining people to leave during the rainy season. Thousands of people who arrived in a caravan in 2018 got wet while sleeping outside during the cold November rains.

The city estimated that some 1,700 people lived in the camp two weeks before the 28 October operation, which Caballero announced publicly, though without offering a specific date.

The first count, on 29 October, identified 769 migrants, of whom over 40% were minors. Half were Mexican – many from the states of Guerrero and Michoac√°n – a third from Honduras and the rest from El Salvador and Guatemala.

The significant drop just before registration probably reflects that many people living there were homeless, not migrants, Caballero said.

Maze Camp has a huge plaza that was once empty. Some of its corridors barely have room for two people walking in opposite directions at the same time. People relax on folding chairs inside or outside their tents.

There are 12 portable toilets, 10 showers and community taps for laundry. The charity donates food to migrants who prepare hot chocolate, scrambled eggs, hot dogs and spaghetti for all. Recently, a state-owned utility company blocked the camp from stealing electricity, leaving the night dark and forcing the makeshift kitchens to rely on canned food.

The future is more uncertain for a similar camp in Reynosa, across the border from McAllen, Texas. Some 2,000 people live in a plaza near the city’s main border crossing, said Felicia Rangel-Samponaro, director of The Sidewalk School, a union that provides education to minors there.

By court order, the Biden administration plans to soon reinstate a policy of its predecessor, Donald Trump, asking asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for their trial in the United States. The measure relies on approval from Mexican officials, who have already told Washington they need more beds in shelters and expressed concerns about violence in Tamaulipas state, where Reynosa is located.

Blas Nunez-Nieto, assistant secretary of the United States Department of Homeland Security, said the “Stay in Mexico” program will resume in “the next few weeks” after officials in both countries have resolved “a series of pending issues”. States for Border and Immigration Policy, in a court document on Monday. He did not provide further details.

Caballero pointed out that the United States has not pressured Mexico to reopen the busy pedestrian crossing between Tijuana and San Diego. The US Customs and Border Protection Office said in a statement that it is working closely with Mexico to determine how to resume normal traffic in a safe and sustainable manner.

The mayor plans to seek help from the Mexican National Guard to prevent the appearance of new settlements in Tijuana.

“The reality is there are going to be camps if we are not prepared,” he said.

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