Haitian Migrants, Rebuffed by U.S., Cause Crisis for Mexico

Haitian Migrants, Rebuffed by U.S., Cause Crisis for Mexico

17:54 - Thousands of Haitians crossed into U.S. from Mexico, but now have returned south of the border to avoid deportation to Haiti by U.S., straining Mexico’s resources

The unprecedented wave of Haitian migrants at the U.S. southern border is causing a crisis in Mexico, which now must contend with thousands of asylum seekers turned back by the U.S.

The migrants have been streaming back into Mexico from Del Rio, Texas, where as many as 16,000 had gathered in recent days under a bridge on the U.S. side. As American officials this week began rounding up hundreds of the Haitians and deporting them to Haiti on aircraft, many who remained returned to the Mexican side to avoid being sent back to their impoverished and chaotic nation.

Meanwhile, some 6,000 other Haitians still were making their way to the U.S. border and had stopped in cities and villages across northern Mexico, unsure what to do, say Mexican and Haitian officials.

“We have a migration crisis in our territory,” said Miguel Ángel Riquelme, governor of northern Coahuila state, which borders Texas.

While Mexico is accustomed to a steady stream of migrants heading to the U.S. border, the sudden influx of Haitians and people of other nationalities like Venezuelans has swamped shelters and officials.

In Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, across the border from Del Rio, about 1,200 migrants, half of them women and children, are living in tents next to the Rio Grande, while local migrant shelters are at capacity, officials say.

“These migrants need a lot of help,” said Cinthia Martínez, who lives in Ciudad Acuña, adding that babies and children needed milk and diapers. “Some have no food or have just had instant soup. They don’t even have shoes.”

Nearly 3,000 Haitians arrived in recent days at Monterrey, south of Ciudad Acuña, two shelter managers said.

Casa Indi, a large Catholic shelter in Monterrey, has received some 850 Haitians since Sunday, most of them families with children, the most coming back from the border, said Antonio Gonzalez, the manager.

“We are completely overwhelmed,” he said. “The number of Haitians we are accommodating has no precedent.”

He said had to set up a church sanctuary and a dining room to accommodate the newcomers.

Hundreds of Haitians have begun to show up at the offices of Mexico’s refugee agency in the leading cities of Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey to ask for asylum in Mexico, overwhelming local offices, said Andrés Ramírez, the head of the refugee agency. “We have long lines of Haitians in nearly all of our offices,” Mr. Ramírez said. “We are suffering tremendous pressure everywhere.”

Mexico’s refugee agency had a budget of $2.2 million this year, and 48 staff members, to handle the 77,500 refugee requests filed up to August, a record, compared with 41,000 for all of 2020. Some 19,000 applications were filed by Haitians, the second-highest total for any nationality after Hondurans.

A senior Mexican official said it was unlikely that most of the asylum applications would be accepted, as the majority of Haitians are economic migrants and not political refugees. Mexico will likely return the bulk of them to Haiti or perhaps Chile and Brazil, where many were living in recent years.

A Haitian official said Mexico was aiming to return the migrants. “Mexico is determined to go ahead with the assisted return of Haitians if they are not eligible for refugee status,” he said.

Most of the migrants now turning up in Mexico left Haiti after the 2010 earthquake that devastated the island nation. Many have been driven to their journeys by economic troubles caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, a tightening of migration rules in Chile and the wrong perception fueled by smugglers that the U.S. border was open to Haitians under President Biden, migrants and immigration authorities say.

The Haitian official said he was saddened by Mexico’s decision. He said Mexico’s stance appeared to have hardened after thousands of Haitian migrants crossed the Rio Grande into Del Rio.

“Haiti can’t face something like this right now,” he said, alluding to Haiti’s struggles to rebuild after an earthquake last month and growing instability after the July assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse.

Mexico’s immigration agency this week sent two flights with some 300 Haitians from Piedras Negras and Monterrey to Tapachula and Villahermosa, cities near the Guatemalan border, an immigration official said. He said those who asked for refuge would be allowed to continue the process in southern Mexico, but others might be removed to Guatemala.

Francisco Garduño, the chief of Mexico’s immigration agency, said the agency was supporting Haitian migrants to return to the Mexican states where they began their refugee proceedings.

The migrants communicate over WhatsApp groups and social media to discuss routes and transportation options to get to the U.S.-Mexico border. Most arrived in Mexico after a trek across South and Central America in recent months and were bottled up in southern Chiapas state, where some submitted refugee applications.

In recent weeks, growing numbers grew tired of waiting for paperwork and decided to head north. Mexican authorities say they initially tried to stop them but were outnumbered. The immigration agency has fired some 1,650 immigration officials since 2018, most of them as part of a plan to clean up corruption at the agency, officials say.

Some pro-migrant activists say Mexico’s government deliberately allowed the Haitians to move north after images of Mexican migration agents using violence to stop some Haitian migrants were heavily criticized. A spokesman at the immigration agency said it worked to guarantee a “safe, orderly and regular” migration.

In recent days, Mexican state and federal authorities stopped more than 41 buses with migrants trying to arrive at the U.S. border, said Sonia Villareal, the top public safety official in northern Coahuila state, where Ciudad Acuña is located. Despite that, some 71 buses managed to arrive last weekend, said Piedras Negras Mayor Claudio Bres.

In the village of Zaragoza, some 60 miles from Ciudad Acuña, local authorities opened the community’s auditorium so that a hundred stranded Haitian migrants could spend the night indoors.

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