Mexico To Issue Temporary Work Permits for Migrants Seeking Asylum in U.S.

Migrants seeking asylum in the United States can begin applying for temporary work permits in Mexico while they await hearings, according to a report from KTSM, the NBC affiliate in El Paso, Texas.

Chihuahua state officials said Wednesday that while migrant petitions are vetted, they can help fill the work void in places like Juarez. These permits called Clave Unica de Registro de Poblacion (CURP) will be available this week on the Mexican side of the Bridge of the Americas at the National Immigration Institution facility.

Enrique Valenzuela, who leads the State Population Council in Juarez (COESPO), said this gives migrants an opportunity to make money for food and housing while waiting several months for hearings.

"This will ease the burden of migrants who are returned to Mexico with little money and lots of needs," Valenzuela said. "Many don't have a place to sleep and face waits of 12 to 18 months, yet they have to survive somehow."

COESPO works with migrants to enter their names onto a list and issue them appointment numbers with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection in El Paso. Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) is a program where migrants seeking asylum get sent to Mexico for their waiting period.

Immigration lawyers say Juarez is too dangerous of a place for migrants to wait out their time. Juarez is known along the border for its rampant violence and economic hardships.

Border Patrol Migrants Texas
Mexican National Guard members prevent Central American migrants from crossing the Rio Bravo to the US, in Ciudad Juarez, State of Chihuahua, Mexico, on June 26, 2019. - Mexico's president vowed Tuesday to investigate the controversial detention of migrants trying to cross the US border, saying the 15,000 troops he has deployed there have no such orders. Photo by HERIKA MARTINEZ/AFP/Getty Images

Melissa Lopez is the director for Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services in El Paso, and she said simply sending migrants back to Juarez is not the right solution, saying the MPP doesn't guarantee migrants access to safe living conditions or access to lawyers.

"The ability to support themselves is critical, so I think that is certainly going to be helpful," Lopez said. However, "I don't think giving people work permits in Mexico makes the Migrant Protection Protocols acceptable. The MPP program still denies them access to attorneys and a safe well-being while they are waiting on their asylum claims," she added. "So, it's not a solution to MPP."

The report states that most migrants tell immigration judges they prefer to not be sent back to Mexico because of crime, and that El Paso lawyers are prohibited from practicing in Mexico.

Valenzuela said Juarez only has enough shelter for 900 migrants, and that the remainder of the thousands sent back across have to fend for themselves. He said some simply give up hope and make the arduous journey back home.

"They might have returned to their countries or are trying to enter (the United States) through other border cities," Valenzuela said.

He added that officials in Juarez have lobbied its federal government to help migrants get work permits quite easily, especially to help out the maquila industry, which are manufacturing facilities that operate under current tariff programs between the United States and Mexico.

"The businesses tell us they have many jobs openings, that they are willing to hire these people," Valenzuela said. "There's a lot of jobs here in Juarez, up to 20,000 in the maquiladora industry and other businesses."

Getting a work permit isn't as easy as going to a window, filling out a form and getting a stamped paper. The applicant must be 18 and abiding by the asylum-seekers protocol.

Abel Olmedo is a Cuban migrant seeking asylum who visited COESPO in Juarez to see if his number had been pulled, and he spoke about the conditions in Juarez. He said he's witnessed a shooting and a robbery in the Chihuahuan city.

"I don't want to stay in Juarez. I want to go to my hearings and move on," Olmedo said. "It's not a safe place."

Relvis Perez is also a Cuban national seeking asylum, and he said a work permit in Mexico isn't such a bad thing. He currently sells water and sodas to make a living while awaiting his hearing, and said his time in Juarez has been relatively crime-free.

"It would be good to have a formal job with good pay," Perez said. "I mostly hear about people who've been robbed on the streets."