US blockade of asylum claims puts Mexico in trouble

The small agency for refugees in Mexico is overwhelmed by applicants who are abandoning the American dream due to the anti-immigration measures of US President Donald Trump.

Mexican immigration officers making records.

Mexican immigration officers making records. / Via REUTERS

Reuters | Julia Love

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Leer en español: Bloqueo de EEUU a peticiones de asilo pone en aprietos a México

The Mexican Refugee Assistance Commission (COMAR) fears that the burden on employees who already work up to 15 hours a day will increase after the US Supreme Court restored a Trump policy that bans most asylum applications in its southern border

Like many in Tapachula, a Mexican border city with Guatemala, Danny Perez, a 29-year-old taxi driver, said he dreamed of arriving in the United States so he fled extortion from Honduran gangs. But, after Trump's ban, he is trying to settle in Mexico.

However, the young migrant cannot work without papers and has no money to rent a room.

"This is not easy," said Perez, who began the asylum search process last week.

Resigned to wait, he spends his nights on a sidewalk in front of the COMAR office in Tapachula, where he feels safe amid the constant turmoil of migrants.

The Supreme Court action, which restored a US policy that stipulates that migrants crossing another country en route to the United States must apply for asylum in that country, will likely exacerbate demand in Mexico, said Andres Ramirez, head of the COMAR.

"It's worrisome," Ramirez told Reuters. "We can think that that will add to the increasing numbers we have been having."

Alexander Espinoza waited half a year. His life once revolved around reaching American soil: the 33-year-old Salvadoran says he tried to enter illegally 10 times, including six attempts in six months. But when Trump increased his anti-immigrant rhetoric, Espinoza decided to call Mexico his home.

The previous week, COMAR recognized him as a refugee, ending a wait that began in March. He must still wait for his resident card, but he was not discouraged, presuming the braided bracelets he had made, his incipient business.

Read also: New controversy in the case of the 43 missing students in Mexico

Up to 15 hours

Even before the action of the United States Supreme Court, COMAR applications were expected to reach 80,000 in 2019, more than double last year's total. In August alone, orders increased more than triple from last year to 8,178.

On Friday morning in Tapachula, a few dozen asylum seekers were waiting for their appointments, loading colorful plastic folders with the documents that will determine their fate.

Sitting at a packed desk, Claudia Briseño said that COMAR employees - like her - have been working at an exhausting pace. The 63 office employees are processing 16,350 applications, or about 260 per person, increasing their working hours to 15 hours a day, Briseño said.

"We are making three times as much effort in being able to give all these people access to the shelter procedure," the official confessed.

The staff has simplified the processes, reducing the frequency with which asylum seekers must present themselves, Briseño explained. But the latest change in US immigration policy can reverse that progress.

The low budget of the agency aggravates its problems. COMAR received $ 1 million for 2019, the lowest amount in seven years. The budget for 2020 would increase by 35%, although still well below the almost 6 million dollars that the head of the COMAR, Ramírez, says they need.

COMAR relies heavily on the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, which has provided 112 employees and helped open three new offices.

But until COMAR is better funded, migrants will have little support to rebuild their lives in Mexico, said Enrique Vidal, coordinator of the human rights group Fray Matías de Córdova. "The COMAR lacks in a structural way the capacity to attend to the reality we are living," he said.

Also read: Mexico: Self-defense defies the president in fight against cartels

Next stop, United States

For some, asylum in Mexico is simply a stop along the way. Under US policy confirmed by the Supreme Court, migrants can still have an asylum opportunity in the northern giant if their application is rejected in another country.

Roger Fuentes, a Cuban seller of household goods that arrived in Tapachula in August, said the United States remains his target.

"You have to request it or you have no choice. The process is like this," said Fuentes, 34.

The migrant said he will not try to dismiss his asylum case in Mexico, although he knows that the rejection could help his process in the United States.

Similarly, Teresa Cardonell confessed that fear of deportation to Cuba has determined her to do everything well in Mexico, including her asylum application.

But his mind is fixed in the United States. Terrified after having suffered a robbery in Tapachula, she darkened her strands of blond hair to try to blend.

"We are looking for freedom," said the 34-year-old woman. "I'm not free yet, I can't go out."

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