“They took our information, and we waited at most for half an hour,” Villarta said excitedly. This is a fundamental change from his first contact with Mexican authorities in early November, who detained him and then threw him at a remote border port in Guatemala. He was not deterred, and caught the migrant caravan leaving Tapachula, walked with them for three weeks, and then accepted a government-provided bus and humanitarian visa to another city.
This choice used to be an illusion and is now part of a major reform of the way Mexico handles immigration on its southern border. Just a few days ago, the United States and Mexico announced on Thursday that they had reached an agreement to re-implement the Trump-era policy called “stay in Mexico” at the northern border of Mexico in accordance with a court order, which forced asylum seekers to wait for them in Mexico. Case.
How to deal with the plight of immigrant caravans leaving Tapachula prompted Mexico to look for alternatives. After more than two years of containment policies that trapped immigrants in the south far away from the US border, Tapachula, a sweltering city with a population of about 350,000, was flooded by tens of thousands of new immigrants. They have been crowded in parks and squares, and many people complained about not being able to find jobs.
According to the National Institute of Immigration, the new plan is to transfer immigrants to other states in Mexico and grant them humanitarian visas to allow them to work legally for a year.
The impact of this policy change is unclear, especially since many immigrants are still eager to reach the United States-but now they will do so from cities closer to the US border.
In recent days, about 3,000 people (mainly Haitians) have camped under the trees and in the parking lot of the Tapachula football stadium. They wait for the bus that the Mexican government will use to transport migrants to other cities and hope to obtain a humanitarian visa, but they don’t know where they will go-nor when the bus will arrive.
“I want to find a job in another city,” said Edwine Varin, a Haitian immigrant, while she and her husband and son searched for shade under the sheets of the stadium. “If I don’t work, how do I pay the rent? How do I buy food and clothes for my children?”
An unnamed Venezuelan immigrant said that he had just arrived in Tapachula with his mother. “We came by bus because we were surrendering, and we saw everyone,” Jefferson said. Later that day, an Associated Press reporter saw them boarding a government bus, but was not sure where it was going.
With little information, immigrants tried to organize themselves, but they were not always successful. Some people blocked the roads and asked the government to send more buses. The immigration agency did not specify how many immigrants received humanitarian visas or were sent elsewhere.
As part of the reimplementation of the “Remain in Mexico” agreement, the United States will vaccinate asylum seekers participating in the program and help pay for asylum in Mexico.
Mexico’s own asylum system has been overwhelmed by requests because some immigrants see it as an easier alternative than the United States. According to government data released on Wednesday, Mexico has received more than 123,000 asylum applications this year, compared with about 70,000 in 2019.
The slow processing speed of asylum applications in Mexico’s overworked system, coupled with few job opportunities and limited housing, makes immigrants frustrated. In August, hundreds of people began to walk out of Tapachula in a caravan. The earliest caravan was quickly disbanded by Mexican security forces, sometimes even violently.
Others left more cautiously. In September, with little notice, thousands of Haitian immigrants showed up at the border in Del Rio, Texas.
Haitians are the main applicants for asylum applications in Mexico this year, with more than 47,000 applications.
The number of immigrants who have obtained humanitarian visas may still be relatively small, but “compared to the confrontation between the National Guard and the caravan a few months ago and the severe control experienced by immigrants and asylum seekers, this is a very significant change. ,” Tonatiuh Guillen said, at the end of 2018 and early 2019, when President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (Andrés Manuel López Obrador) took office Headed the Institute of Immigration.
Others are less optimistic. “This is an impromptu response from the immigration authorities,” said Enrique Vidal Orascoga, an attorney at the Frei Matias de Cordoba Center, a non-governmental organization that assists immigrants in Tapachula. organization. “They keep people completely ignorant, they think they can be like commodities.”
Pastor César Cañaveral, who leads the immigration outreach of the Roman Catholic Church in Tapachula, does not see this as a lasting solution. He said that when the government issued similar visas after a large number of caravans in early 2019, these migrants were transported back to Tapachula after their visas expired and their visas were not renewed.
There were also reports this year that the authorities detained migrants, even though they had valid permits to travel north and sent them back to Tapachula.
The immigrants who received them this time still breathed a sigh of relief.
A week after obtaining a humanitarian visa, 28-year-old Honduran immigrant Josue Madariaga is already working in a market in the northern city of Monterrey. “They told me that with my credentials, they accepted my insurance and everything!” Madariaga said.
However, many immigrants will set their sights on the United States.
Nicaraguan immigrant Veralta had entered the state of Veracruz with a caravan before accepting the government’s proposal to go to the state of San Luis Potosí in north-central Mexico to collect a visa. From there he and other immigrants quickly moved north to Monterey, and then reached the border with Arizona.
On Thursday, after hearing about the re-implementation of “stay in Mexico”, Villarta tried at the border. He called his mother and then walked into American territory. Seeing the Border Patrol, he knelt and raised his hands above his head.
He said he hopes that documents proving that he has been a victim of political persecution and torture by the government of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega will help him win asylum before the United States repatriates asylum seekers to Mexico.
Marquez reported from Los Algordonez, Mexico, and Verza from Mexico City.