MEXICO CITY (AP) – As migrants, especially Venezuelans, struggle with a new US policy discouraging border crossings, a small town in southern Mexico unexpectedly plays host to thousands of migrants camped far from the US border.
San Pedro Tapanatepec had 7,000 migrants, about 75% Venezuelans, when The Associated Press paid a visit in early October. On Monday, Mayor Humberto Parrazales estimated the number had grown to 14,000. The AP could not independently verify that figure.
While many Venezuelans planned to head to the US border, new US policy says only those who apply online and arrive by air will be allowed in. Border violators are simply deported. That leaves many who camped in five large tented camps wondering what they will do next.
They dissipate the heat during the day with just a few electric fans to keep the temperature down.
San Pedro Tapanatepec is clearly not where they wanted to end up. The heat-soaked city in the state of Oaxaca is only about 300 kilometers from the border with Guatemala. Many of the migrants had thought they had left Guatemala behind forever on the long trek that took many of them from the Darian Gap in Panama, through Central America, to Mexico.
Since August, the city has served as a way station, where migrants would wait a few days while Mexican immigration authorities gave them some sort of transit pass that gave them time to reach the US border.
But Parrazales said the flow of that paperwork has slowed, leaving many more migrants waiting here in an impoverished city ill-equipped to host so many people.
“I don’t understand it,” Venezuelan migrant Robinson Rodríguez said by phone from Tapanatepec. “If everything is closed at the border, they shouldn’t be handing out those (transit) passes. And if you ask (the authorities), they say they don’t know, but they keep handing them out.”
Time is not on the side of the migrants. Rodríguez had actually received a seven-day transit document, which basically meant he had to leave Mexico in a week. But he had to spend time collecting the money to pay for the transport to the northern border, and by the time he got it, his pass had expired.
Confusion reigns. Nicaraguan migrant Luis Martinica showed a leaflet with a web link for Venezuelans to sign up, but it was confusing; if he, as a Nicaraguan, showed up at the US border, would he be deported too?
Mayor Parrazales has his own concerns. The town’s transformers can no longer handle the electricity needed for the camp and there have been partial power outages. Healthcare, sanitation and water are also a problem.
Still, migrants have to pay for most things, and Parrazales acknowledges that the city has seen about $15 million in additional business in the sale of food, sleeping accommodations, medicines, taxis and bus rides for migrants. “They have to pay to charge cell phones,” he notes.
Mexico has issued about 77,000 transit passes to Venezuelans so far this year, most in the past three months. Like Nicaraguans and Cubans, Venezuelans are difficult to deport both to Mexico and the United States.
Mexico’s National Immigration Institute has not responded to requests from The AP about how the camp will be managed after the new US program. Due to the lack of official information, rumors and tensions are running high.
Martinica, the Nicaraguan immigrant, says officials stopped issuing passes for a while “after a dispute in which some Venezuelans insulted a police officer”.
“There is a great lack of information,” Parrazales says. “This is a pressure cooker that I’m trying to include here.”
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