Mexico City – Dozens of migrants and asylum seekers sit on a cold and rainy street outside the offices of the National Commission for Refugee Assistance (COMAR). Most of them were deported from the United States to Mexico a few days ago.
Almost everyone here is from Venezuela, and many are women with young children. The shelter for migrants and refugees in the area is full, so they have slept outside for the past few nights.
Luis Conde, who is one of the older men in the group at age 43, says most people here crossed the border from Mexico into the US earlier this month and turned themselves in to immigration officials, expecting to find out. process of applying for asylum will begin – as other Venezuelan asylum seekers have done in recent months.
Instead, they were detained by US border agents and sent back to Mexico. Luis says the agents cited the policy known as “Title 42,” which allows US immigration authorities to deport migrants and asylum seekers to Mexico under the pretext of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s worth noting that we’ve all been vaccinated here,” said Luis, still wearing the blue sweatpants he got from US border agents. “I really don’t understand the situation; we were told that our immigration process was finalized in Laredo [Texas]but that was not the case.”
Another Venezuelan expatriate approaches me outside the refugee aid offices. His name is Jonathan. He is tall and muscular. He says he was a professional bodyguard in Venezuela and hoped to find work in the US before being deported to Mexico.
Jonathan tells me he was part of the first group of Venezuelan nationals sent to Mexico from the US under a new policy change.
“No one understood what was going on,” says Jonathan, recalling the moments before U.S. border agents sent him back to Mexico. “They’ve put handcuffs on us, the kind that goes from your hands to your feet.
“It wasn’t until we got off the plane that we understood what was going on.”
There is a look of uncertainty and frustration on everyone’s face outside the COMAR office as more and more migrants and asylum seekers trickle into the area, all seeking guidance from Mexican authorities.
But even officials here seem confused about the constantly changing policies at the border.
The most recent shift concerns a US-Mexico agreement whereby the US has agreed to grant 24,000 humanitarian visas to Venezuelan asylum seekers.
But that excludes those who enter the country by land – who are now sent to Mexico. The amendment expanded Title 42’s powers to carry out “rapid” deportations, particularly of Venezuelan nationals.
“These can’t even be called deportations,” said Eunice Rendon of Agenda Migrante, an NGO that promotes the rights of migrants in Mexico. “This deportation under Title 42 is an accelerated deportation. People don’t get their fair trial; they are simply detained and left at the border with Mexico with no chance to apply for asylum.”
There is another concern: human rights defenders say the new restrictions announced by the Biden administration could harm the tens of thousands of minor migrants and asylum seekers traveling through Mexico on their way to the US.
“That’s another thing that worries me about these transit visas,” Rendon says. “It has been announced that unaccompanied minors are not candidates for these visas, despite the fact that unaccompanied minors have been responsible for a significant part of the migration phenomenon since 2014. This also applies to Venezuelans.”
New crisis is taking shape
There is a sense in Mexico that a new migrant crisis has already begun.
The challenge facing government officials is complex. Not only has Mexico agreed to take in Venezuelans expelled from the US, but more migrants and asylum seekers are arriving every day from the country’s southern border.
“We need to work with the Labor Secretary to give these people some sort of legal status,” said Rosa Maria Gonzalez, who heads the Committee on Migrant Affairs in the Mexican House of Commons of Congress. “We’re working on it, but I believe people are gaining weight faster than we can keep up.”
Gonzalez was one of the most critical voices in the Mexican Congress about the constant shifts in policy towards migrants and asylum seekers.
“I think it’s time we said enough is enough,” she says. “I know we have a relationship with the United States, but the subject of migration was not an easy one. The United States treats Mexico like a small cash drawer. Anything they don’t want, they send here.”
Experts in Mexico say one thing that could help ease the pressure on migrant shelters and refugee aid organizations in the short term is to remove Title 42 altogether.
Although US President Joe Biden promised the measure would be lifted, refugee rights advocates like Rendon say that rather than attempting to eliminate Title 42, the policy has been embraced and abused by the Biden administration, further advancing the traditional US asylum process. disturbed.
“[Title 42] is an inhumane policy,” says Rendon. “It may have been installed by [Donald] Trump, but it has been used more by Biden. In other words, the one that has abused it the most is the Biden government.”
Increase in arrivals
The perspective in Washington remains that something needs to be done to curb the arrival of migrants and asylum seekers at the border. According to government data, the number of “immigrant encounters” at the US-Mexico border has exceeded 2 million so far this fiscal year, a record high.
With November’s midterm elections just around the corner, US Democrats may not want to seem weak on immigration. But what seems like good policy for the Biden administration has led to a bad situation for migrants and asylum seekers. And it only gets worse.
While Mexico and the United States have agreed to a joint commitment to tackle the Venezuelan migrant and refugee crisis, neither country appears prepared for what is to come.
This month, the United Nations reported that since the start of Venezuela’s political and economic crisis in 2015, more than 7.1 million Venezuelans have been living as refugees and migrants around the world.
While the crisis conditions in the South American country continue, the exodus is also increasing. Although the vast majority of Venezuelans are spread across 11 countries in Latin America, an increasing number of them seem to view the US as their best chance of asylum.
And despite ever-changing policies aimed at limiting migrant and refugee flows in the region, no action by either country appears to have a meaningful effect on the number of people moving northward to the US.