The shelters are already showing alarming signs of saturation; What most worries social organizations is the delicate situation of vulnerability in which they place returnees, firstly because they are people who have been fleeing their countries and because they are forced to wait in violent cities and at the mercy of organized crime.
Last Wednesday, December 8, the first two people returned to Mexico by the immigration authorities of the United States arrived in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, under the pompously called Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP, for its acronym in English), better known by the imperative “Stay in Mexico” ─reactivated by court order─, which obliges asylum seekers to remain in Mexican territory while the US courts decide whether or not to grant them refuge.
With this, the cities of the northern border of Mexico are today like a pressure cooker that was put back on fire, but with the valve missing.
And it is with this that a dangerous stage of pressure began for the localities where the shelters for Mexican immigrants (especially those displaced by violence) and foreigners who seek to cross into the United States, already show alarming signs of saturation.
All this within the framework of legal ambiguity and uncertainty, absence of public and humanitarian policies on the part of the US, Mexican federal, state and municipal governments, both to serve the thousands of migrants stranded already on those shores of Mexico, as well as the thousands who walk there, encouraged by the perverse incentive generated by the news of the reopening of the border to non-essential travel and the reactivation of the “Stay in Mexico” program, with everything and that is considered by civil society organizations and by the US government itself, as inhumane and inefficient.
In this scenario, what most worries civil society organizations whose cause is the protection of migrants, is the delicate situation of vulnerability in which they place these people, firstly because they are people who have been fleeing their countries (for they seek refuge) and because they are forced to wait in violent cities and at the mercy of organized crime.
There were already many … and they will come from the north and south
Last Monday, December 6, the United States government reactivated the Migrant Protection Protocols, which are considered one of the flagship programs of the (anti) immigration policy implemented by President Donald Trump, who approved it in January 2019 It was in effect until January 20, 2021, when President Joe Biden repealed it, the first day of his administration.
During its first stage, it initially operated, as a pilot program, at the port of entry in the city of San Ysidro, California, neighboring Tijuana, Baja California. Then it expanded to the cities of Calexico, neighboring Mexicali, Baja California; El Paso, a neighbor of Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua; Laredo, a neighbor of Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas; Brownsville, a neighbor of Matamoros, Tamaulipas; Eagle Pass, a neighbor of Piedras Negras, Coahuila, as well as in San Luis, a neighbor of San Luis Río Colorado, Sonora, and Nogales, Arizona, a neighbor of Nogales, Sonora.
However, on August 14, the federal judge based in Texas, Matthew Kacsmaryk, ordered it to be resumed, arguing that the government of President Biden did not consider its “benefits” to deter the arrival of undocumented migrants to that nation, in addition, that the revocation did not follow the proper procedure. The US Supreme Court ordered that it be resumed, taking into account that resolution and that of another Missouri judge.
On the day of its re-implementation, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaky called the program ineffective and inhumane.
According to Human Rigts Watch, the administration of President Donald Trump sent more than 71,000 asylum seekers to Mexico under that program.
As of December 31, 2019, alone, according to statistics from the National Migration Institute (INM), the United States had returned 62,144 asylum seekers to Mexico to wait in Mexico. Of those 30.14% were returned by Ciudad Juárez, 27.55% by Matamoros, 18.06% by Nuevo Laredo, 11.62% by Tijuana, 10.84% by Mexicali and the rest by others.
The figures reveal that of those 62,144 returnees in that period, 25.16% were people of Honduran origin, 25% Guatemalan, and 13% Salvadoran. The rest of 17 other nationalities.
Gretchen Kuhner, director of the Institute for Women in Migration (Imumi) indicated that more than 40% of the people who were returned under the MPP protocols during the two years that the first phase lasted were women and 30% were children. Many of these cases involved mothers with young children.
The shelters are already saturated
According to María Inés Barrios de la O, a researcher at the Colegio de la Frontera Norte, when the program was suspended in January 2021, there were still more than 25,000 active cases, that is, people who had already attended their first appointments at the Court and they were still awaiting the resolution of their case.
From March to July, of those 25,000 people, about 18,000 carried out their process with the accompaniment of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees ( UNHCR ), who registered them on a platform and they had to be passing gradually and waiting inside. from the United States to follow up on your case.
The specialist explained that during the first stage of this program, the dynamics consisted of migrants entering the United States, registering in this process, assigning them an appointment for the Migration Court and being returned to Mexico.
What happened, he said, was that soon the attention spaces in Mexico were exceeded. The shelters had to change their work dynamics, because previously they cared for people who stayed in their facilities for no more than a week.
With the entry of the Migrant Protection Protocols, they began to receive returned migrants who had the need to stay much longer in the receiving cities. Then they lasted for months in the shelters.
This was due to the fact that these people could go to a fifth Court and did not have a favorable resolution to their case.
There are records of people who waited up to one year and nine months before the United States gave them a final resolution and it was not favorable in all cases, the academic highlighted.
Various civil society organizations pointed out that the Mexican government did not implement policies to attend in a way to integrate this particular type of migrants during their waiting process.
In addition, Barrios de la O highlighted that government interventions were not homogeneous along the border. In some cases, comprehensive migrant care centers were established, but only in a first stage and only in Ciudad Juárez, where the “Leona Vicario” center operated, and in Tijuana, where the “Carmen Serdán” shelter was set up. They were insufficient.
The problem was that the waiting migrants weren’t just in those two border cities.
In addition, it happened that many people were returned to Mexico through the Nogales, Sonora, but their trial was activated in the US Court in El Paso Texas.
The tricky thing was that in Nogales there was no mechanism to attend to them or to support them to transfer them to Ciudad Juárez, the neighbor of El Paso.
Many people who were unable to travel from Nogales to El Paso did not appear at the court indicated on the day and time assigned and their cases were immediately deactivated.
With the reactivation, there is a lot of concern from civil organizations, because there is a very important concentration of migrants along the entire border, not only those seeking asylum but those who simply want to go to the United States.
Barrios de la O indicated that in Ciudad Juárez alone there are about 2,800 people in the network of around 24 shelters, plus those who are not in shelters. Most of those places operate at more than 70% capacity.
He commented that, prior to the Migrants Protection Protocols, in Ciudad Juárez there were only three care spaces for migrants, but after implementation, civil society organizations enabled around 20 emerging spaces.
“Cities are reaching saturation point.” It is not credible that the United States authorities have the capacity to process the number of requests that will come to them and less that they have a resolution in six months ”.
He said that it is a challenge, not only for shelters but also for border cities to know how to manage and attend to these migrant flows. “It is not only the oversaturation that these already established spaces can have, but the response that the city can give.
They are people who are going to be waiting and who are going to demand other things, not just a space, for example, access to health services, in which cities can be overwhelmed, especially since a large part of the migrants come from countries from the Caribbean and are not used to the low temperatures of several degrees below zero that are registered in the winter in the northern part of the country.
He commented that in 2019 a meeting was held between migrants who had arrived in Ciudad Juárez and about 30% said they had had a health problem, mainly in the respiratory tract.
On the other hand, he mentioned that the fact that a good part of the migrants are family nuclei and 40% are minors also represents a challenge for the shelters.
José Ascención Moreno Mena, president of the Migrant Defense Coalition, said that the reactivation of the Migrant Protection Protocols takes shelters and cities in the north of the country in a very critical situation. He said that only between 42 and 45 shelters that operate in Baja California are in a saturation situation.
This is because they are receiving many migrants, mainly returnees to Mexico under Title 42, which allows US authorities to immediately remove migrants from their country for health reasons, particularly due to the Covid pandemic. 19.
In addition, many Haitians are arriving in Baja California, especially after the reopening of the border to non-essential travel and the reactivation of the program for asylum seekers in the United States.
He pointed out that the Tijuana shelters have information that the US authorities are going to return to Mexico under the Migrant Protection Protocols around 26,000 people, of which 9,500 are for Tijuana, although it is not clear when.
He indicated that this would generate a crisis situation in the city because there is nowhere to house them since all the shelters in the state together can accommodate around 6,500 people.
At the moment it is estimated that there are around 5,000 people in those places. “In addition, there are as many that are in private homes, and neighborhoods.” Only in the El Chaparral camp, there are around 1,000 people.
In turn, Pat Murphy, director of the Casa del Migrante in Tijuana, commented that almost all the shelters are full, including this one.
He mentioned that last Sunday they could not accept any migrants because they are completely full.
He reported that during the pandemic they have operated with an average of between 90 and 100 people, which means they are working practically at the limit of their attention span. In addition, those who are just arriving are sent to a site to be quarantined and rule out that they are infected with Covid-19; then they can go to the shelter where they can stay up to 40 days. Of the 80 people who were in that place at midweek, 30 were children.
He commented that at the beginning of 2021 many people from Honduras and El Salvador arrived in the city of Tijuana and in recent months there has been a considerable increase in the arrival of displaced Mexicans, mainly from Michoacán and Guerrero, fleeing the violence. In recent weeks, mainly Haitians began to arrive.
Meanwhile, Juan Francisco Loureiro, director of the Juan Bosco de Nogales shelter, reported that this place has the capacity to serve up to 150 people and currently serves between 100 and 150 people of different nationalities daily, mainly from Central America and Haiti, many of them expelled from the United States under Title 42. He mentioned that there have been nights where up to 200 people stay.
He recalled that in the first stage of the program around 50 people returned through Nogales a day, but since they were people who had to go to other cities to continue their process, they did not stay in the locality.
He commented that it is expected that at this stage more people will arrive through that place, but they will also have to move to Ciudad Juárez or other places to be close to the places where they are assigned to appear before the Court.
He commented that in Nogales, in addition to Juan Bosco, another shelter operates that only receives families and has a dining room.
Migrants are exposed in unsafe cities
Gretchen Kuhner stated that one of the most important challenges along the northern border of Mexico is the physical safety of people.
He recalled that social organizations documented that violent acts were committed in the country against people awaiting the asylum process, both from criminal organizations and the authorities themselves.
In this sense, he stressed that returnees have to wait in highly violent border cities. “It’s like putting them on a silver platter to people who can take advantage of them. Furthermore, organized crime knows where they are going to return them and since a good number of these people have relatives in the United States, criminals extort them ”.
He explained that cases of rape of women were also documented, especially since they are people who are in a highly vulnerable situation. Many are traumatized by the violence from which they are fleeing and here they are once again victims of violence.
Reimplementation of MPPs, incentive to migrate
Both the directors of migrant houses, organizations serving that sector of the population and academics consulted by this newspaper pointed out that the greatest concern is that, given the reactivation of the protocols, the migratory flow to the border cities will increase.
María Inés Barrios de la O recalled that currently in the center and south of the country there is already a conglomeration of migrants, mainly Haitians, Central Americans, and even South Africans. Many of them were in the process of immigration regulation through the Refugee Assistance Commission.
He highlighted that from January to November 2021, more than 100,000 refugee applications had been registered.
He drew attention that a good part of these people have the objective of obtaining asylum status in Mexico, but they do so to continue their journey to the north of the country to try to cross to the United States either regularly by requesting asylum or illegally.
That is why with this reactivation (of the MPPs) all that flow that is already in Mexican territory begins to go up to the border cities to register on that list that it will be processing in the United States to benefit from the Migrant Protection Protocols.
For her part, Gretchen Kuhner explained that, because the United States border was closed during the pandemic, now, the reactivation of the MPP generates a perverse incentive for migrants to move to the border with the illusion of being able to obtain refuge. and enter that nation.
They are returns that violate laws
On the other hand, María Inés Barrios de la O emphasized that the program’s own reactivation constitutes a violation of due process for applying for asylum in the United States and goes against her own migration policy.
He recalled that many of the civil society organizations hoped that Mexico would not accept receiving the migrants returned by the United States for that program.
He stressed that Mexico proposed to accept that people do not have to wait more than six months in Mexican territory, that they be vaccinated against Covid-19 and that they have legal assistance from United States lawyers.
However, he mentioned that this is not realistic, especially when viewed in light of the experience when the program was first applied.
In addition, during the first stage of the Migrants Protection Protocols, it was established that only people who speak Spanish would be returned to Mexico, particularly from Central America, but now it foresees that citizens of more countries will take advantage of this program, with which they will send e Mexico to people from even nations where Spanish is not spoken. Such is the case of the Haitians.
A Ciudad Juárez shelter received a call informing them that they would send a group of 250 Haitians under the Migrant Protection Protocols.
People who are currently in detention centers in the United States are also expected to return to Mexico.
Gretchen Kuhner explained that the delicate thing is that the ” Stay in Mexico ” was re-implemented without making the necessary changes in that program to avoid conflictive situations that were faced in its first stage.
In addition, he drew attention that the Mexican government has not been clear in defining what its immigration policy will be. “That is why it is very difficult to understand what is going to happen in Mexico.”
In his opinion, Mexico has shown signs of evasion and non-compliance with the right to due process and non-refoulement that asylum seekers have.
The most worrying thing is that the Mexican government continues to present its immigration policy through press releases. It is not in any law what it does. There is no signed agreement. The Mexican government, by behaving in this way, is weakening the rule of law, because people cannot know what is going to happen, nothing is set in an official policy. Everything is through press releases ”.
He stressed that among the challenges posed by the restart of the program, compliance with due process stands out, which implies that migrants have access to legal accompaniment in their processes. This implies compliance with the right to know the procedure in your language.
He recalled that in the first two years of the Migrant Protection Protocols, only 10% of applicants were able to be advised by US lawyers familiar with the laws in question.
He said that he also faces the problem that lawyers have openly expressed to the United States Government that they do not want to be complicit in human rights violations through this program.
On the other hand, he drew attention to the fact that during the previous experience it happened that the Mexican Government removed from the national territory foreigners who had been returned from the United States through the Protocols for the Protection of Migrants, violating the right of non-refoulement of applicants for asylum.
This despite the fact that Mexico is a signatory to the Refugee Support Convention, which obliges it to protect asylum seekers, particularly by not returning them to the country from which they are fleeing.
IOM will seek to mitigate vulnerability of returnees
Alberto Cabezas, the Communication Coordinator of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Mexico, UN Migration, stressed that this body wants to put an end to the program as soon as possible and definitively since it is an inhumane policy and contrary to the international right. We believe that it endangers people in mobility contexts.
For the official of the international organization, the most important thing is that the dignity and well-being of migrants be maintained.
However, he said that the IOM will play a role in the return of migrants seeking asylum to Mexico to try to reduce the risks that returnees under that program face while in the country.
“We will try to mitigate the conditions of vulnerability of these people and we will focus on the protection of children, the prevention of gender violence, prevent them from being victims of human trafficking networks and to support them in cases of mental health. and psychosocial help “.
He recalled that, since 2019, it has provided humanitarian assistance to people on the border between the United States and Mexico and will continue to do so for the benefit of any migrant or displaced person and this includes those subject to the Migrant Protection Protocols.
He informed that they will provide transportation, from the entry points to the shelter that the Mexican authorities offer and have hired laboratories to test them for Covid-19, so that only those who are not infected with it reach the shelters. that disease.
They will also provide them with information on the procedures they follow for them, especially when and at what time they have a court hearing. In addition, they will provide transportation to get to those appointments.
Under these conditions, the ” Stay in Mexico ” resumed, the pressure began to rise.