U.S.-Guatemala asylum agreement could apply to Mexican migrants

In a renewed effort to slash border crossings, the measure would apply within the migration agreement between the U.S. and Guatemala

U.S.-Guatemala asylum agreement could apply to Mexican migrants
English 21/12/2019 13:49 Reuters Mexico City Sofía Menchí, Ted Hesson, Mica Rosenberg, Frank Jack Daniel, Lizbeth Díaz, Matthew Lewis, Shri Navaratnam, David Alire García, Julio-César Chávez, Julia Love, José Luis González & Lincoln Feast/REUTERS Actualizada 14:02
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On Thursday, the United States began flying Mexican deportees deep into Mexico and senior U.S. and Guatemalan officials said Mexicans seeking U.S. refuge might be sent to the Central American nation, in a renewed effort to slash border crossings.

The flight carrying Mexican deportees from Tucson, Arizona, landed in the central city of Guadalajara around midday. One immigration shelter in the city said it had been informed of a likely influx of deportees.

U.S. President Donald Trump has made clamping down on unlawful migration a top priority of his three-year-old term in office and his 2020 re-election campaign.

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Numbers of Central American migrants apprehended at the border fell sharply in the second part of 2019 after Mexico deployed National Guard troops to stem the flow, under pressure from Trump.

With fewer Central Americans at the border, U.S. attention has turned to Mexicans crossing illegally or asking for asylum. Around 150,000 Mexican single adults were apprehended at the border in fiscal year 2019, sharply down from previous decades but still enough to bother U.S. immigration hawks.

In another sign of the new focus on Mexicans, Acting Deputy U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Ken Cuccinelli said an agreement that lets U.S. immigration officials send asylum seekers to Guatemala to request refuge there instead could also apply to Mexicans and other nationalities.

“As we fully implement the agreement, all populations are being considered, including Mexican nationals,” Cuccinelli said on Twitter.

His comments were echoed by Guatemala’s Interior Minister Enrique Degenhart, who told Reuters he had analyzed whether Mexicans could be included in the program, which is similar to the “safe third country” arrangement in Europe that outsources asylum to Turkey.

Degenhart said the idea of including Mexicans had not been implemented so far but could not be ruled out.

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“Right now, it is only being used with Central Americans,” he said, pointing out that Mexicans were not part of the long-standing pact that allows Central Americans to move freely between each others’ countries.

The agreement is aimed at “eliminating the need to make the dangerous journey north and lining the pockets of transnational criminal organizations,” Cuccinelli wrote on Twitter.

Mexico’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Cuccinelli and Degenhart’s remarks.

Mexico said it had requested the flights to keep deportees away from dangerous border cities, while a senior DHS official said the flights were in response to rising numbers of Mexican nationals arrested at the U.S.-Mexico border.

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Mexicans made up nearly half of all migrants caught between October and December, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data.

John Sandweg, a former acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement during the Obama administration, said the program would help stop Mexican migrants from simply crossing again once they had been deported.

“It’s a lot cheaper to just return Mexicans across the border,” he said. “But the real benefit is the recidivism rate.”

A bus ride from Guadalajara to Nogales, a Mexican border city across from the U.S. state of Arizona, can take more than a day.

The flights could be scaled up quickly in the coming weeks, said the DHS official, who was not authorized to speak publicly. The Mexican foreign ministry said the flights would begin on a regular basis in January.

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The U.S. official added the return flights may expand beyond Guadalajara, Mexico’s second-biggest city, to other parts of Mexico.

On Thursday, Acting ICE Director Matt Albence said in a written statement that the interior repatriations would allow Mexican nationals to be returned closer to their homes and discourage future border-crossing attempts.

The flight from Tucson to Guadalajara carried approximately 150 Mexican deportees, according to ICE.

In recent years, the United States has mainly deported Mexicans to border towns, although in the past it also flew them to cities in the interior.

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A freezing wait
Meanwhile, Mexican officials concerned about the health of Mexican asylum seekers including around 200 young children sleeping in the open near the U.S. border in Ciudad Juárez tried to move people to shelters on Wednesday, as temperatures dropped below freezing.

In recent months, Ciudad Juárez has seen a rapid increase in Mexicans seeking to apply for asylum in the United States, leading to a backlog in the city as U.S. border officials limit the number of asylum cases they receive at the port of entry each day.

A waiting list contains about 1,200 people, of which about 550 are staying in camps near the bridge to the United States, the Chihuahua state government said. Nearly half of those in the camps are children under the age of 12.

“For their own good, they can’t be in these public spaces,” said Enrique Valenzuela, who heads the civil protection services in Chihuahua state and was trying to persuade the migrants to shift to shelters.

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“It is for the good of their sons and daughters who are exposed to crime and above all the inclement weather.”

Weather forecasts predict freezing temperatures in the Ciudad Juárez-El Paso area through the weekend.

Policies under U.S. President Donald Trump aimed at reducing the number of new arrivals in the United States have led to tens of thousands of mainly Central American asylum seekers living for months in Mexico as they await U.S. court dates or interviews with border officials.

Immigration advocates say the policies expose vulnerable populations to crime, extortion and the elements.

On Wednesday, a grandfather from the state of Zacatecas sat at a small grill where people were cooking breakfast, scrambling chilli and eggs while his one-year-old granddaughter sat in a chair bundled up in multiple sweaters.

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The coffee he drank was made with water that was still frozen when they tried to pour it into a pot for boiling.

Giving only his first name for fear of reprisals, Rodrigo said he traveled with his son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter to escape violence in their home state.

The family all slept in a tent together, insulating it with cardboard and sheets of plastic. As temperatures dropped to -4 Celsius in the early morning, the baby woke up crying, Rodrigo said.

His family had been waiting for more than two months to be called on the asylum list, Rodrigo said, and had no plans to leave for shelters despite the weather forecast.

“We have only ten families ahead of us on the list, so we’ll cross in the next eight days or so...if you’re not here for the roll call in the morning your family gets removed from the list after two or three absences,” Rodrigo said.

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One woman who declined to give her name said she was considering moving to another city to escape both the cold and what she feared were cartel members who had followed her from Guerrero state.

Other families said they would leave the camp, worried children would fall sick. Some families have decided to cross the border illegally rather than wait, they said.

Officials in Chihuahua state were seeking a meeting with their U.S. counterparts to discuss the situation in the camps, a Mexican official said, requesting anonymity. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not respond to a request for comment.

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