Multiple migrant caravans struggle to move out of southern Mexico
Four migrant caravans that departed southern Mexico in November have struggled to make it out of the region due to blockades by the Mexican government along the route north.
Migrants from South America, the Caribbean, and Central America who traveled up to Mexico and intended to continue on to the United States's southern border have faced major setbacks caravaning through the country, even as Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, a Republican, has claimed that the caravans are well on their way.
Mexico strategically placed checkpoints and boosted its law enforcement and military presence on roads that are the most popular routes from southern Mexico up to the southern tip of Texas in an effort to encounter caravans and migrants headed north, said Ariel Ruiz Soto, a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington.
Many migrants had hoped to make it to northern Mexico, where jobs and housing are more readily available than in southern Mexico, Reuters reported Tuesday. But the Mexican government's federal police and military have prevented many from making it through. Ruiz Soto does not believe the majority of caravan members who departed in November will make it past Mexico City.
An influx of migrants from far beyond the normal countries of origin — El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras — have traveled to Mexico this year, putting pressure on the Mexican government to quickly process those who are seeking refugee status and deter others who wish to travel through the country to get to the U.S.
Once in the southern Mexico state of Chiapas, they may wait weeks for the Mexican government to approve humanitarian visas that allow them to live and work as refugees, and the delay is prompting some to give up and try going north with caravans. Mexico anticipates 130,000 people will apply for refugee status by the end of 2021, three times more than in 2019, an indication of how overwhelmed the government is.
“There simply isn't the capacity even under the best intentions by the government to actually provide quick adjudication and processing for the demand that exists among migrants,” said Ruiz Soto. “That's what you see — Haitians, Africans, and other Central American migrants who are frustrated and tired of waiting in Chiapas. ... The migrants don't trust the government because the government has been taken a long time to actually fulfill its promises.”
Because migrants have given up on waiting for the government to provide visas to remain in southern Mexico, several thousand people have joined the caravans in an attempt to get to other areas where more jobs, housing, and opportunities exist.
But those caravans have struggled to take off, often embarking and crumbling apart days or weeks into the journey. The last caravan that embarked out of the city of Tapachula on Sunday dissipated, with about 800 of the 2,000 migrants turning back after traveling 15 miles by Tuesday, according to Reuters .
A group of 2,000 people, mostly from Central American countries, departed southern Mexico earlier in November. They were followed by a group of mostly Haitian and Venezuelan migrants hoping to catch up to the first group — both of which were initially traveling to Mexico City, which sits just under halfway between Chiapas and Texas, Ruiz Soto said. More than 1,500 members left the caravan to stay in Mexico, the government said on Nov. 16.
A third caravan of roughly 1,000 people departed last Friday, but as more caravans depart, the Mexican government has taken action to stop them from getting much further past Chiapas.
Amid the onset of the caravan phenomenon in 2018, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s administration opted to temporarily resettle migrants in other states, Ruiz Soto explained. Three years ago, Mexico focused on providing visas to migrants, but because approving those applications was not a quick process, it backfired, and the delays prompted many migrants to caravan to the U.S.
This year, amid the highest number of migrants encountered by U.S. Border Patrol on the U.S.-Mexico border in nearly a century, Mexico announced migrants entering the country from Guatemala could opt to be sent to one of 15 states to live and work. The effort helps move people out of southern Mexico, one of the poorest parts of the country, which is limited in its ability to employ or house migrants.
“In order to alleviate the massive concentration of foreigners who are located in the state of Chiapas, the National Institute of Migration (INM) of the Ministry of the Interior, expedites the transfer of the regularization processes to other entities, in order to issue and deliver humanitarian visas in an expeditious and orderly manner,” INM said in a statement Sunday.
Ruiz Soto called it a “significant” policy change.
Still, the response on Mexico’s part, as well as that of the U.S., Canada, and Central America, is more of a reaction than a solution, he said.
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