Migrants are sewing their lips shut to protest the policy that stranded them in Mexico

“Facing pressure to find ways to limit the number of migrants requesting entry to the United States, Mexican immigration authorities will not permit the migrants to leave the city unless they have some form of legal immigration status allowing them to move freely through the country, such as asylum. Hundreds tried to escape last month, but were intercepted and detained by Mexican immigration authorities.

Many of Tapachula’s migrants have already applied for legal status so that they can travel north to the US border. Mexican immigration authorities are supposed to process those applications within 90 business days. But some migrants have been waiting for more than a year due to a surge in applications that has led to backlogs. In 2021, nearly 90,000 people applied for asylum in Tapachula, more than triple the number who did so the year before. Applications from vulnerable groups — including children, pregnant people, victims of crimes, people with disabilities, older adults, and their immediate family members — are currently being prioritized.”

“Migrants are being kept from entering the US under a pandemic-related border restriction first implemented by the Trump administration, known as the Title 42 policy, which allows the federal government to bar noncitizens from entering the US for health reasons. Although public health expertshave said Title 42 doesn’t help to stop the spread of Covid-19, the Biden administration has embraced it. That has allowed the Biden administration to carry out 1.1 million expulsions to Mexico in the past year, including to the state of Chiapas, where Tapachula is located.

In 2019, the Mexican government agreed to ramp up immigration enforcement on its southern border in order to avert US tariffs Trump had threatened. Though the Biden administration hasn’t continued to threaten those tariffs, it has dangled carrots of vaccine doses and development funds in exchange for Mexico’s cooperation on limiting migration to the US border.  

 The effect of those policies has been to keep migrants away from US borders and out of mind for most Americans. And it’s been largely successful in silencing migrants unless they go to extreme lengths to be heard.”   

“But the kind of care provided to migrants in Tapachula isn’t adequate. The city simply doesn’t have the infrastructure to support a sudden influx of people. For months, some 3,000 migrants were living at a campsite at Tapachula’s Olympic Stadium, where they had no access to clean water, food, health care, and other basic services, and shared only a few portable toilets.

That camp was disbanded in December, but there still isn’t enough affordable housing and room in local shelters to support the migrant population and it’s not clear whether or when the Mexican government will build more shelters. Many are sleeping on the streets near INM’s local offices and don’t have work permits, meaning that they can’t secure stable employment that would allow them to support themselves while they wait. And they have reported being mistreated, arrested in violent and arbitrary manners, and robbed of their money and their phones by Mexican authorities.

Though Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard has promised to reduce wait times by streamlining the bureaucracy around the asylum process, he has also acknowledged that the government simply doesn’t have the staffing and resources to meet the explosion in need.

The US could share the load by resuming processing of migrants at its own borders and allowing them to pursue claims to humanitarian protection, as is their legal right. Instead, it has offloaded its immigration responsibilities onto its neighbor.”


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