Migrants Stranded at Mexican Border Weigh Options: Stay There or Keep Trying for U.S.

Border cities in northwestern Mexico are crowded with Haitian migrants, Mexicans who have been deported by the U.S., and those fleeing widespread violence in their home regions and seeking U.S. asylum. Frustrated in attempts to enter the U.S., many are likely to settle in that area and will need the government’s assistance; four of these migrants tell their stories.

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Migrants Stranded at Mexican Border Weigh Options: Stay There or Keep Trying for U.S.

Mayela Sánchez, GPJ Mexico

Haitian migrants and Mexicans who have been deported from the United States pass time underneath a bridge at the Tijuana-San Ysidro border. These two groups are the most common at the border, as the number of Haitian migrants seeking to use Mexico as a transit point to the U.S. increases.

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TIJUANA, BAJA CALIFORNIA, MEXICO — Julio Malvoisin, 28, spends his days sitting under a bridge near the Tijuana-San Ysidro port of entry, on Mexico’s northwestern border with the United States.

That’s where some Mexicans deported from the U.S., along with Haitian migrants waiting to enter the neighboring country, gather in this city. It’s how Malvoisin beats boredom while he awaits March 15, the day he has an appointment at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office.

Malvoisin arrived in Tijuana from Haiti in late November. He never imagined that it would take so long to gain entry.

While he waits for his appointment, Malvoisin sleeps and eats at a migrant shelter. But migrants can’t stay there all day, and that’s why he goes to the bridge, he says.

Without money or work, Malvoisin says, he can only wait.

“I don’t have [a way] to eat well, how to shower well. Everything is hard, every day [is] more difficult,” he says in broken Spanish.

Since May 2016, an unprecedented influx of Haitian migrants has arrived in Mexico’s northern border on their way to the United States, according to workers at migrant shelters in Tijuana and Mexicali.

About 13,000 Haitians have arrived since then and 5,500 remain in Baja California border towns waiting to enter the United States, according to Carlos Mora Álvarez, executive president of Baja California’s Consejo Estatal de Atención al Migrante, the state council that provides services to migrants and deportees.

INSIDE THE STORY: For a GPJ reporter, the metallic fences on the westernmost border between Mexico and the U.S. represent separation, fear of the other, an obstacle that must be defeated, the insurmountable. Read the blog.

This unusual flow of Haitians keeps 31 existing migrant shelters crowded, and it’s expected that another 20,000 Haitians will arrive in Mexico in 2017, he says.

After Haiti’s earthquake in January 2010, the U.S. suspended deportations of Haitians. This policy ended Sept. 22, 2016, when the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced it would resume deportations.

Faced with tightening U.S. immigration policies, some Haitians likely will give up trying to enter and choose to settle on the Mexican border, says José Ascención Moreno Mena, president of the Coalición Pro Defensa del Migrante, a network of organizations that defends the rights of migrants in Baja California.

While Haitians make up the largest and most visible group, Mexicans deported from the U.S. and those fleeing violence and seeking asylum in the U.S. also are adding to the crowding at the border, he says.

It’s expected that the number of deportees and asylum seekers stalled at the border will increase now that Donald Trump has become the U.S. president.

Trump, who ran for president on promises to build a wall at the Mexican border, told CBS News in November that he would deport undocumented people with criminal records, such as gang members or drug dealers. And, to some degree, the numbers of such deportees had already risen during the Obama years. Of 242,456 Mexicans deported in 2015, 106,193 had been convicted of a crime, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Yearbook of Immigration Statistics.

Through an executive order released Jan. 25, Trump broadened the enforcement priorities for removals. Now they include not only undocumented immigrants convicted of criminal offenses, but also those who have been charged with criminal offenses (even if those charges have not been resolved), or who have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense.

The executive order also prioritizes removal of undocumented immigrants who have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation related to official government matters, who have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits, who have not complied with a final order of removal, or who pose a risk to public safety or national security, in the judgment of a migration officer.

Future deportations in general are expected to fall heavily on Mexicans, because they make up 52 percent of the 11.1 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., according to the Pew Research Center.

Moreno Mena predicts that a number of Mexican deportees likely will stay in northern border cities, either to attempt to reenter the United States or to be closer to family members in the U.S.

Others looking to settle in the border area are Mexicans fleeing violence who failed to gain asylum in the U.S. Between 2013 and May 2016, the Coalición Pro Defensa del Migrante documented 1,106 cases of internal Mexican migrants displaced by violence or insecurity. They came mainly from the Mexican states of Guerrero and Michoacán, in the southwest.

About 90 percent had migrated to the northern border because they were considering asking for political asylum in the United States, according to the report. But not all succeeded: A review by the Coalición of 215 cases found that 65.7 percent had been rejected.

Faced with the predictable settlement of these migrant groups in the border area, Moreno Mena says, Mexico will have to take action to ease their integration into society. One such solution could be to ease requirements so that people can access education, health, employment and migration services.

Mora Álvarez of the state council says that Baja California’s government is prepared to assist migrants who decide to settle in the state.

Global Press Journal interviewed migrants who, in their attempt to enter the United States, are staying on the Mexican border. These are their stories.


The One Who Will Try Again

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Mayela Sánchez, GPJ Mexico

In his two attempts to enter the United States, E.G. was deported back to Mexico because he did not have legal immigration documents. He says he has decided to stay in the border town of Mexicali to work until he has enough money to cross again.

E.G., 40, has lived in the border city of Mexicali since August 2016, when he says he was deported from the United States for a second time.

In late June, he says, he crossed the border illegally for the first time. He had been in the United States for a week when he was arrested and deported for entering that country without legal documents, he says.

Two weeks later, he tried again and met the same fate.

E.G. says he hasn’t told his family that he was deported. Fearful that a relative or acquaintance might identify him, he shared only his initials and asked that his face not be shown.

E.G. is from Veracruz, a state on Mexico’s eastern coast, where he worked in the fields. But E.G. says he decided to stay in Mexicali, in the northwest of the country, to try to cross into the United States again.

“Because there you earn a little more,” he says. “If someone goes there, [it is] to work, only for that; to work, to work.”

In Mexico, the minimum salary is 80.04 pesos ($3.93) a day, while in the United States, it’s $7.25 an hour.

Until he repeats his crossing feat, E.G. is working as a maintenance man at the Hotel del Migrante, a shelter for migrants and deportees near the Mexicali-Calexico port of entry. He earns 150 pesos daily (about $7.37), he says. At the shelter, he sleeps in a room with other deportees. Each one pays between 10 and 15 pesos (5 to 7 cents) daily for the space, he says.

E.G., who has an eighth-grade education, says that if he could get a well-paid job in Mexicali, he would stay in that city.


A Foreigner Stranded on the Border

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Mayela Sánchez, GPJ Mexico

Arnold Absalon at the U.S. border in Mexico says he did not attend his immigration appointment at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office in Calexico for fear of being deported back to Haiti. He says he hopes President Donald Trump will help Haitians enter the U.S.

Arnold Absalon, 30, is filled with uncertainty. The Haitian native came to Mexicali in October believing that, once on the border, entry into the United States would be easy.

Like many of his compatriots, he found when he arrived that he would have to wait months for an appointment with U.S. immigration authorities. He says he had learned that some Haitians had entered the United States, but were eventually deported back to Haiti.

“Now, [it’s] very difficult, because some have a list of four months here to enter, and are going hungry, without clothes, without money,” he says.

From October 2015 to December 2016, some 13,553 Haitians who showed up at the ports of entry between Mexico and the United States were considered inadmissible, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The figure is significantly higher than in previous years, when the number of Haitians considered inadmissible didn’t exceed 1,000, according to data from the same agency .

Haitians without a legal status to enter that country are turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is in charge of deportations. By last November, more than 4,400 Haitians were in immigration detention centers, according to data from the Department of Homeland Security.

Fearful of deportation, Absalon says he chose not to keep his appointment, which was in December.

“They are deporting. [I am] scared,” he says.

Absalon says he came to Mexico from Brazil, where he had migrated to work in construction. He left his two children, ages 12 and 8, with his mother in Haiti. He has no wife, he says.

After he’d spent 22 months in Brazil, he says, the work ended.

To get to Mexico, Absalon traveled through Peru, Ecuador and Colombia, along with Panama and other Central American countries whose names he can’t remember. Sometimes he made the journey by bus, sometimes on foot, he says. Absalon put in all that effort to get to the United States because he thinks that is where he’ll find better opportunities for work.

For now, Absalon tends to a candy stall near the Mexicali-Calexico border crossing, along with other Haitian migrants. He receives no pay but works to pay for food in the migrant shelter where he lives.

Absalon says that Haitians are choosing to stay in Mexicali instead of trying to enter the United States for fear of being deported. He also has considered that option, he says. Nevertheless, he says, he will make a decision now that the U.S. administration has changed. His hope is that Trump will ease access to that country for Haitians, he says.


Fleeing Violence and Starting Over

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Mayela Sánchez, GPJ Mexico

M.A. never expected to end up in Tijuana. When she was escaping violence in her home state of Guerrero, Mexico, she says, her hope was always to reach safety in the U.S.

In late November 2016, M.A. left home never to return. Her husband and 8-year-old daughter came with her, she says.

They left the Guerrero state municipality of Iguala, well-known for the forced disappearance of 43 students, after police attacked them on the night of Sept. 26, 2014. Their whereabouts are still unknown.

After the students’ disappearance, the violence worsened, says M.A., who for security reasons asked to be identified only by her initials. She left Iguala after her cousin was kidnapped.

“You say, ‘What are you waiting for? For something to happen to you?’” M.A. says.

Before leaving Iguala, M.A. and her family sold their furniture, as well as most of the nail polish and other nail decorating tools she used in her business, she says.

But things didn’t turn out as expected.

Although her parents and siblings live in the U.S., and the violence in Iguala is documented, “at Immigration they don’t give you a chance to speak,” she says.

M.A. says she went a second time to seek asylum at the U.S. immigration office at the Tijuana-San Ysidro port of entry. An immigration official and people waiting to be interviewed told her that she and her daughter could be taken to an immigration detention center until their case was resolved. Fearful of that fate, she gave up her attempt.

She doesn’t know what she will do now. But she knows she won’t return to Iguala.

“To go back to my city, no. No more,” she says. “My husband and I talked about staying here; if it can’t be done, well, we’ll stay here a year and work, then see how we might go about visiting my family.” M.A. says her husband already has a job and has rented a room.

Meanwhile, she and her daughter remain at Instituto Madre Asunta shelter, which cares for female migrants and their children. She hasn’t moved in with her husband because some people burglarized his room, and she doesn’t feel safe living there.

M.A. says the lack of ties bothers her, since she doesn’t know anyone in Tijuana.

“I haven’t had my family, but I’ve had friends,” she says. “But now you don’t know anyone. You feel sadness.”


Lourdes Medrano, GPJ, translated this article from Spanish.