Home News Other busing plans: Mexico is pushing migrants back south

Other busing plans: Mexico is pushing migrants back south

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Buses rumble into towns day and night, dumping migrants into a city many don’t even know exists.

But instead of landing close to the U.S. border, they were towed about 1,000 miles in the opposite direction — deep into southern Mexico, in a secretive effort to appease the Biden administration and transport migrants away from the U.S. plan.

Mexican authorities have rarely publicly acknowledged the bus plan, making it far less controversial than other efforts Republican governor Shipping immigrants to blue states has become the centerpiece of American politics.

However, the busing plan exposed the gap between the Mexican government’s rhetoric promoting a humanitarian approach to migrants and the country’s role as a heavy-handed enforcer of U.S. border targets, leaving many migrant families stranded and left to fend for themselves.

“I asked the agents, ‘How can you treat us like dirt?'” said Rosa Guamán, 29, from Ecuador. In April, she was detained by immigration agents near the border city of Piedras Negras with her husband and two children. Before they were on their way, no one told them they would be taken to Villahermosa, the oil center of southeastern Mexico.

Speaking at an overcrowded shelter in Villahermosa, she described the journey as the most frustrating part of a months-long journey that included hiking through swaths of jungle, threatening sexual assault and bribing Mexican officials in hopes of Arrive in New Jersey.

“We started from scratch,” Ms. Guaman said.

Mexico’s National Immigration Institute declined to comment.Officials are sometimes there too frame Immigration detention and transfer are cast in humanitarian terms as “rescue” or “dissuasion” aimed at alleviating conditions in dangerous, overcrowded areas, or to use the technical term “decompression.”

But immigration lawyers, human rights groups and shelter operators in Mexico say the busing program is anything but humanitarian. When the issue of immigration within Mexico was less polarizing, rules for transporting migrants south of the border tended to be obscure — or openly ignored by authorities. election Just like in America.

Ernesto Vasconcelo, a Venezuelan-born lawyer who provides legal advice to immigrants in Ciudad Juarez, which borders El Paso, said there is no public database where lawyers or family members can see where immigrants have been detained. where they were taken and their current condition.

He said Mexican immigration authorities “refuse to provide any information to anyone, and they do not allow immigrants to have any legal representation, which is itself illegal.”

Migrants encountered at U.S.-Mexico border in December exploded reached its highest level on record. Secretary of State Antony Blinken flew to Mexico City for emergency talks aimed at urging the Mexican government to do more to curb migration.

Almost immediately, charter flights and buses began transporting large numbers of people in Villahermosa.

This strategy works.

One of the largest declines in U.S. border apprehensions in decades in the first four months of 2024 is a relief to the Biden administration as immigration remains a top concern for voters in this year’s election.

A senior White House official who was not authorized to speak publicly said the United States does not dictate what measures Mexico should take to curb migration. The official added that while smuggling volumes have declined, smugglers are very sophisticated and both governments need to pay close attention to what happens in the future.

Mexican authorities have used buses sporadically for years, but the expansion in recent months highlights the country’s tightening immigration policies. Eunice Rendon, coordinator of Migration Agenda, a coalition of Mexican advocacy groups, said busing is a “practice designed to tire and exhaust migrants.”

Ms Rendon said moving migrants south, far from their intended destinations, not only takes an emotional and physical toll but also imposes a financial burden as they have to spend money on transport, accommodation and bribes each time they travel north.

Still, buses are part of a strategy that has seen Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador Vlador was able to focus Mexico’s relations with the United States on immigration, thereby fending off explicit U.S. criticism in other areas such as trade policy, energy resource management or treatment of political opponents. .

There are doubts about whether Mexico’s efforts are sustainable.

nation report Some 240,000 migrants were arrested in January and February, but less More than 7,000 people were deported in two months, suggesting that most of those arrested remain in Mexico and have the opportunity to make their way north again.

The flow of migrants from South America into Mexico continues. Panama said some 109,000 people crossed the Darien Gorge jungle that stretches across Central and South America in the first three months of 2024, a 14% increase from the same period last year.

Villahermosa is one of the top destinations for migrants to travel by bus. Migrants sleep on the streets outside bus stops and convenience stores. The whole family begged for change at a busy intersection.

People sitting on the sidewalk nearby spoke languages ​​such as Hindi and Russian.

Karina del Carmen Vidal, manager of a local migrant shelter, said her shelter has room for about 160 people and has been at or above capacity for months. There are hundreds of other families renting rooms in the surrounding area.

“The migrants arrive here in complete shock,” Ms. Vidal said. In some cases, they took buses to Villahermosa multiple times, she said.

Migrants in the city say they were forced onto buses by Mexican agents and deprived of information about where they were going and why.

A Russian man at a shelter described being detained by immigration officials in Mexico City in March shortly before boarding a flight to Tijuana. Not speaking Spanish or English, he struggled to understand what was going on.

“No one explained anything to me,” said the 34-year-old man, who requested anonymity. Using Google Translate, he said he deserted from the Russian army with the intention of traveling to California and feared his relatives in Russia might be targeted if his identity was discovered.

It was unclear how many people were bused south as Mexican officials declined to provide details.

But at least thousands of foreign migrants were sent to Villahermosa and another southern city, TapachulaThat’s according to immigration experts, lawyers and religious leaders.

When they are sent away, some choose to stay in Mexico and apply for asylum. Others received formal “departure notices” giving them up to 30 days to leave the country – plenty of time to try heading north again.

Others, however, said they were simply left on the streets and not taken to immigration processing centres.

Tonatiuh Guillén, who headed Mexico’s National Institute of Immigration at the start of Mr. López Obrador’s administration, said the agency would resettle a small number of migrants during his tenure, mostly From Central America. He said southern Mexican cities are considered easier to process migrants and prepare for deportations.

But Mr Gillen described the current busing policy as a “merry-go-round” in which people are forced to make multiple attempts to cross the US-Mexico border, bribing immigration officials and police again and again along the way. Try every time.

“This is an abnormal situation for immigrants,” Mr Gillan said.

Ccriticize The local authorities in Villahermosa have reacted somewhat subduedly to the bus plan, perhaps unsurprisingly since the surrounding state of Tabasco is a bastion of support for Mr López Obrador and his home state.

Neither Villahermosa’s interim mayor nor the former mayor, who is running for re-election, responded to requests for comment. The governor of Tabasco state declined to comment. They are all members of the president’s ruling party, Morena Party.

Still, local media sought to link the influx of migrants to crime concerns, drawing widespread attention to the Senegalese man’s case defendant Another migrant allegedly boarded the bus begging for money and then beat driver.

Roman Catholic priest Roberto Valencia Aguirre said he had to abandon plans to shelter migrants in a church in a wealthy part of the city after parishioners objected.

“The reaction from some people was very unpleasant, saying, ‘No, Father, we don’t want immigrants here,'” he said.

Hamid Alaiaziz Reporting from Washington also contributed.

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