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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Migrants remain confused about new US immigration policies, legal status in Mexico

Honduran migrants walk along the U.S. side of the Rio Grande and past an emptied-out migrant camp after crossing over from Mexico on May 13, 2023, to El Paso, Texas.    (John Moore/Getty Images North America/TNS)
By Jacqueline Charles and Antonio Maria Delgado Miami Herald

MIAMI — In the weeks since the Biden administration ended a pandemic-era public-health measure that allowed for the quick expulsion of migrants illegally crossing the southwestern border, Mexican authorities have responded with a series of crackdowns that are raising concerns among advocates.

In recent days, the Mexican government has closed dozens of migrant shelters and begun busing migrants away from its northern border to other states. Authorities have also suspended 45-day permits that allow undocumented migrants to travel through the country without fear of deportation or detention.

The moves, said July Rodríguez, the director of Support for Venezuelan Migrants, are adding to migrants’ confusion about the new U.S. immigration measures and their legal status in Mexico.

Hours after the Title 42 public health measure expired on May 11 and new U.S. immigration asylum rules came into effect, Rodríguez said she was visiting a shelter in Mexico City, where she is based, and she saw a line of migrants boarding a bus. Most of them were Haitian, and authorities were planning to shut down the shelter, which had only been opened for about six weeks.

“When we asked the immigration officials what was going on, they said they were offering to transfer people to other shelters, but that was not true,” Rodríguez said.

Another immigration officer told her that the migrants were being taken to an immigration center in another state so they could continue the process of applying for refugee status in Mexico. The new U.S. asylum rule says migrants showing up at the border without an appointment must show proof that they applied for — and were denied —protection in a country along the route. Failing to do so will most likely result in deportation and at least a five-year ban from the U.S.

Rodríguez believes that most of the migrants she saw that day had no idea what the transfer to another state meant, or what it means to seek refugee status in Mexico.

Once migrants submit applications to the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance, they are given a certificate that allows them to apply for a visitor card for humanitarian reasons. The card allows migrants to work in Mexico while their application is being processed.

“Haitians now believe that once they obtain the visitor card for humanitarian reasons, they can continue on their way to the border, when that is not the case,” Rodríguez said, referring to the group she saw lining up.

Under Mexican law, migrants must stay in the state where they applied for refugee status while they await a decision. If they leave the area, authorities will consider them to be in the country illegally.

“Once they get stopped by immigration on the road, they are taken into an immigration station and from there, they are ordered to leave the country by [Mexico’s] outhern border,” Rodríguez said.

Immigration rights advocates, the United Nations refugee agency and others have all criticized the new immigration measures.

Shortly after midnight on May 12, the American Civil Liberties Union and several immigration groups filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Biden administration’s new asylum restrictions.

ACLU members, who joined immigrant rights advocates on a visit to the Mexican border towns of Reynosa, near McAllen, Texas, and Matamoros, across from Brownsville, Texas, as the new regulation came into effect, said the new rule is “blatantly illegal” and accused the U.S. of creating a humanitarian crisis and outsourcing migration enforcement to other countries.

“The Mexico government is complicit in the human humanitarian situation and the human rights crisis that these policies are creating at the border,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, the Americas director for Amnesty International.

Following the visit, the group issued a scathing report. Among their conclusions: The new asylum restriction will inflict suffering on already extremely vulnerable people, including pregnant women and children. It is also stranding asylum-seekers in dangerous places where they are targets of violence and kidnappings.

“At the doorstep to the United States, people fleeing violence and persecution are facing danger and harm as they wait for appointments in a jury-rigged system and for the U.S. government to meet its obligations to people seeking asylum under federal law and international treaties,” said Guerline Jozef, executive director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, which led the delegation’s visit to the border.