NEW YORK ( Associated Press) – Alvaro thought about leaving Colombia when the pandemic hit his business selling computer and cell phone accessories hard. The 55-year-old Colombian also faced discrimination based on his sexual orientation.
He heard that the journey would not be that complicated: Mexico did not impose restrictions on Colombians, which would allow them to fly to the southern US border to request asylum.
“At that time they didn’t ask for a visa to Mexico,” he recalled in an interview with The Associated Press.
And so Alvaro, who asked not to make his last name public because of his immigrant status, joined thousands of Colombians in March to travel that route to one of Latin America’s most populous countries. Abandoned, which few people had used till now.
Colombians were stopped more than 15,000 times between the United States and Mexico in March, representing a 60% increase compared to February and almost 100 times more than the number of arrests recorded last year, Border According to petrol data.
Many fly to Mexico City or Cancun and take buses or other planes to Mexican border cities before making the trip on foot to the United States.
Over the past year, Mexico has imposed travel restrictions on three other Latin American countries, from where large numbers of people left on their way to the United States. The measure quickly paid off: US officials reported a 65% reduction in arrivals of Brazilians in January, the month Mexico began requiring visas from them.
Ecuadorians were detained 95% fewer in October than in August and Venezuelans were detained 88% fewer in February than in December, when Mexico began requiring visas.
A similar dynamic may occur with Colombians.
“If you look at the large number of Venezuelans who arrived in December, before the visa restrictions came into force in January, it could suggest that people (Colombians) were told… ‘Now is your chance, come now, said Maureen Meyer, vice president of programs for the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights group.
Colombians have no reason to worry. Along with Peru and Chile, Colombia and Mexico make up the economic bloc of the Pacific Alliance, and the four countries have agreed not to impose visas on the others.
But the administration of US President Joe Biden is pressuring Mexico to be more strict. In April, Mexico implemented an online registration process for Colombians requiring travel itineraries, hotel reservations in Mexico, and exit tickets.
Alvaro left Bucaramanga in north-central Colombia in March and flew to Mexico City, but returned to Colombia because he did not have hotel reservations.
Two days later a human trafficker booked a hotel room and Álvaro went back to Mexico City. From there she flew to Mexicali, across the border from Calexico, California. He scaled the border wall over a modest ladder and exposed himself to US border agents.
After spending three days in custody, he was moved to a refugee center and called on his nephews in Miami.
Colombians have largely avoided a public health order – set to expire on May 23 – that has denied migrants the ability to apply for asylum more than 1.8 million times since March 2020. Rules, known as “Title 42” (Title 42). , it was implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19 but is applied unevenly between nationalities at the border.
In March, only 303 —2% — at the border, according to the Border Patrol. Fears resulted in the expulsion of Colombians.
The cost of deportation flights, diplomatic relations, and other considerations explain why immigrants of certain nationalities are not returned to their countries of origin and are allowed to remain in the United States seeking asylum.
Mexico agreed to receive migrants from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico under “Title 42”, and therefore these countries are the main targets of migrant policy. Last week, Mexico began accepting a limited number of Cubans and Nicaraguans under the rules.
The Border Patrol told the Associated Press that its ability to remove migrants under that rule “may be limited for a variety of reasons, including Mexico’s ability to receive those individuals.”
Officials said several hundred Colombians have been forced out of Title 42 as the United States increased flights last month. Witnesses at the Border, an advocacy group that lengthens deportation flights, recorded 28 in Colombia in March and April, compared to only 12 in the previous 10 months.
Years ago, Colombians went to the United States on visas and then applied for asylum, said Andres Daza, a lawyer who works with the Colombian consulate in Miami. Now more Colombians, many of them professionals, are coming through Mexico, he said.
Last week the waiting room at the Colombian Consulate in New York was packed. Darwin Hincapie sat in a metal folding chair in the last row listening to music through his headphones as he waited to receive his Colombian passport. He was taken away by US border agents after he crossed the border in November.
From Medellin, Colombia, he flew to Cancun and took a bus to Reynosa at the US border. After crossing over, he was held in custody for about a month. He now lives in Queens.
“There’s a quality of life here. I don’t have that in Colombia,” said the 27-year-old, who used to drive for Uber in his native country but quit after being extorted by gangs.
The pandemic has hit the Colombian economy hard, bankrupting many companies and sparking violent protests last year when the government proposed raising income taxes. According to the Colombian Ombudsman’s Office, at least 50 people were killed in the demonstrations.
In rural areas, community leaders face threats from drug cartels fighting for abandoned territories by rebel groups and Colombia’s defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) guerrillas, who signed a peace deal with the government in 2016 Were.
In addition, Colombia has received a large wave of Venezuelan immigrants fleeing economic difficulties in their country.
In New Jersey, activist Carmen Salavarieta helps immigrants obtain local ID cards and offers English classes, among other things. The founder of the aid organization Angels for Action says he has seen Colombians arriving in record numbers.
He said, “There are many professionals but they come across the border on foot, can you believe it?” Some people come to his center in search of clothes and food, he said.
Jaime Rojas and Nataly Chaparro were professionals in Colombia.
Rojas, a systems technician in Bogotá, lost his job during the pandemic, and his wife lost her job as an English teacher. Both had participated in massive protest marches last year.
His volunteer work with youth groups wasn’t working either: gangs scratched his car because they knew about his efforts to steer youth away from drugs.
In March 2021, Rojas went to Mexico City because he had a brother there, and months later his wife and two children followed. But since the money was still not enough, the family decided to try their luck in the United States.
In September he took a bus to Mexicali and from there to Yuma, Arizona.
He was released after spending four days in custody, Rojas with an electronic handcuff that he had to wear for more than two months. Now the 36-year-old Colombian immigrant and his wife work 10 to 12-hour days preparing vegetables and packaging salads at a food wholesaler in New Jersey.
The journey from working in an office to doing manual labor in a factory has been difficult, but they are grateful.
“Our house in Bogotá was recently broken into. However, we have been able to save and a month ago we installed security cameras,” Chaparro said. “You work too hard, but we’re better here.”
Associated Press writer Manuel Rueda contributed to this report from Bogota.