Mexico Seeing Spike in Asylum Applications as Migrants Seek Alternative to Settling in U.S.

Mexico is seeing a spike in asylum applications at migrants seek alternatives to settling in the U.S., as the U.S. re-enforced a Trump-era policy called "Remain in Mexico."

The policy was originally paused when President Joe Biden took office. It requires asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their cases are reviewed.

Days before the re-implementation of the policy was announced by Mexico and the U.S., Mexico started allowing asylum seekers to apply for humanitarian visas at its southern border, according to the Associated Press.

Mexico has had to develop new plans to handle migrants, as the previous policy overcrowded the city of Tapachula and migrants complained about being unable to obtain work. The new plan will move migrants across Mexico to other states and allow them to work legally for a year under a humanitarian visa, the National Immigration Institute said.

In re-enforcing the "Remain in Mexico" policy, the U.S. will also vaccinate migrants enrolled in the program to help with shelter costs.

While only a possibly small number of asylum seekers might receive the humanitarian visas, Tonatiuh Guillen, who led the immigration institute in late 2018 and early 2019 during the start of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's administration, said, "it is a very significant change if compared with the confrontation the National Guard had with the caravans a few months ago and the severe experiences of control that faced migrants and asylum seekers."

Some didn't share the same sentiment. "It is an improvised reaction," by immigration authorities, Enrique Vidal Olascoaga, a lawyer for the Fray Matias de Cordova Center, an organization helping migrants in Tapachula, said. "They have the people completely uninformed and they think they can move them like merchandise."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Mexico, U.S., Remain in Mexico Policy, Migrants
The Mexican government has recently opted for a new strategy to relieve pressure on Tapachula, the city on its southern border with Guatemala where tens of thousands of migrants accumulate, and to deactivate the caravans that have emerged in recent months: grant humanitarian visas and offer transfers to other states. Migrants begin their walk north from the community of La Lima in southern Veracruz state, Mexico on November 24. Felix Marquez/AP Photo

The effects of that policy change remain unclear, especially since many of the migrants still aspire to make it to the United States—but will now do so from cities closer to the U.S. border.

In recent days, some 3,000 people, mostly Haitians, have camped under trees and in the parking lot of Tapachula's soccer stadium. They wait for buses that the Mexican government will use to ferry migrants to other cities and hope for the humanitarian visas but don't know where they'd go—or when the buses will arrive.

"I want to go to another city to look for work," said Haitian migrant Edwine Varin, while she and her husband and son sought shade under a sheet at the stadium. "If I don't work, how am I going to pay rent? How am I going to buy food, clothes for the kids?"

A Venezuelan migrant who would only give his name as Jeferson said that he had just arrived in Tapachula with his mother. "We were coming by on the bus because we were going to turn ourselves into immigration and we saw all the people," Jeferson said. An Associated Press journalist saw them board a government bus later that same day, though where it was headed was unclear.

With little information, migrants have attempted to organize themselves, but it's not always successful. Some have blocked roads to demand the government send more buses. The immigration institute has not said how many migrants have been given humanitarian visas or bused elsewhere.

Mexico's own asylum system has been swamped by requests as some migrants saw it as a more attainable alternative to the United States. This year, Mexico has received more than 123,000 applications for asylum compared to about 70,000 in 2019, according to government data released Wednesday.

The slow processing of asylum applications in Mexico's overworked system combined with few job opportunities and limited housing frustrated migrants. Hundreds started walking out of Tapachula in caravans in August, the earliest of which were swiftly dissolved by Mexican security forces, sometimes violently.

Others left more discreetly. Almost without notice, several thousand Haitian migrants appeared at the border in Del Rio, Texas, in September.

Haitians have been the leading applicants for asylum in Mexico this year, accounting for more than 47,000 cases.

The Reverend César Cañaveral, who leads migrant outreach efforts of the Roman Catholic Church in Tapachula, did not see the policy as a lasting solution. When the government gave similar visas at the beginning of 2019 after massive caravans, the migrants were shipped back to Tapachula when the visas expired and they were not renewed, he said.

Cases have also been reported this year of authorities detaining migrants despite valid permission to travel north and returning them to Tapachula.

Still, the migrants receiving them this time are relieved.

A week after receiving his humanitarian visa, 28-year-old Honduran migrant Josue Madariaga was already working in a market in the northern city of Monterrey. "They told me that with my credential they accepted me with insurance and everything!" Madariaga said.

Many migrants, however, will keep their sights set on the United States.

Asylum Seekers, Mexico, U.S., Border Policy
In the year 2021 alone, Mexico has received over 123,000 asylum applications, compared to around 70,000 in 2019, government data released Wednesday reported. In this photo, migrants and asylum seekers hold signs as they protest outside a State Prosecutors office in Tijuana, Baja California state, Mexico on December 3. Guillermo Arias/AFP via Getty Images