Mexico Turns Olympic Stadium Into Migrant Processing Site to Clear Asylum Backlog

Mexico opened a hefty migrant processing site Tuesday outside Tapachula's Olympic Stadium as the country looks to clear a massive backlog in its asylum system, the Associated Press reported. Lengthy wait times and delays for the many asylum seekers looking to be processed in Mexico previously drove thousands of the migrants to attempt to enter the U.S. through its shared border.

The Tapachula site can handle up to 2,000 asylum hopefuls every day. Before it was opened, the streets around the downtown offices in Tapachula were flooded with crowds of migrants as they vied for positions, the AP reported.

Several groups of hundreds of migrants, frustrated by a seemingly never ending wait to have their asylum cases processed by an overwhelmed system, started walking from Tapachula in early September. However, Mexican authorities broke up the groups each time, the AP reported.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Haitian Migrants in Mexico
Mexico opened a migrant processing site Tuesday outside Tapachula’s Olympic Stadium as the country looks to clear a massive backlog in its asylum system. Haitian migrants rest outside a shelter as they awaits for their immigration resolution in Monterrey on September 28. Julio Cesar Aguilar/AFP via Getty Images

Mexico began flying Haitian migrants back to their homeland Wednesday, sending 70 people to Port au Prince.

The first flight took off from the Villahermosa airport in the Gulf coast state of Tabasco with 41 men, 16 women and 13 minors aboard. The United States is also returning migrants on flights to the Haitian capital.

Mexico's National Immigration Institute did not immediately respond to questions about when more flights were planned. But it referred to those on Wednesday's flight as "the first group," suggesting it was the start of a process to handle thousands of Haitian migrants who streamed to the U.S. border this month.

Thousands more are stuck in the southern city of Tapachula, near the Guatemalan border, waiting to have their asylum or refugee claims processed by Mexican officials.

"Authorities from the Interior and Foreign Relations Departments agreed with representatives of the Republic of Haiti to start the assisted voluntary return of migrants in Mexico to their homeland," the institute said in a statement.

The institute said the returns were voluntary, and that the Haitians had been living in Tabasco and central Mexico. That suggests they were not among those who had gone to the U.S. border this month, nor the thousands stuck in Tapachula.

A Mexican official said last week that the plan was to first remove Haitians who were already in detention centers and had not requested protective status.

On Friday, Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said, "We don't want Mexico to be a migrant camp; we want the problem to be addressed fully."

Recently, some 15,000 mostly Haitian migrants appeared at the Mexico-U.S. border. Some of them also had open asylum cases in Mexico but had grown tired of waiting. U.S. authorities spent a week clearing that camp in Del Rio, Texas, deporting some directly to Haiti and releasing others into the United States with the expectation they would appear before immigration officials at a later date.

Some of those migrants who were detained by Mexican authorities in Ciudad Acuña were shipped back south to Tapachula.

Migrants Request Asylum in Mexico
Mexico began flying some of the Haitian migrants residing in the country home Wednesday. Haitian migrants wait to enter the National Commission for Refugees (COMAR) offices to ask for asylum in Monterrey, Mexico on September 27. Julio Cesar Aguilar/AFP via Getty Images