TAPACHULA, Mexico – A long wait for the outcome of immigration proceedings at Mexico’s southern frontier has forced hundreds of Africans and Haitians to take up residence at migratory stations and in this border city in Chiapas state.
Many have settled in Tapachula’s low-income La Esperanza neighborhood, which was previously populated mainly by Mexicans but now has taken on a new look and feel.
Grocery stores, barber’s shops and bars managed by migrants from distant lands have been set up across that district of Tapachula, one of the biggest magnets for United States-bound migrants since October 2018, when thousands of people started moving northward through Central America and Mexico in caravans.
The situation is “difficult because they’re not your customs, but we’re adapting now,” 27-year-old Jon Nelson told EFE.
The Haitian said he spent 15 days inside Tapachula’s Siglo XXI migratory station before being expelled when he demanded medical attention for his wife who had fallen ill.
“My wife was sick and I argued with them so they’d take her to see a doctor. They said ‘no’ and I raised my voice. They put me out on the street and now I don’t know where my family is,” Nelson said, adding that the guards had taken his clothing and cellphone and that he is worried about his wife’s health.
None of Nelson’s family members have papers, which means that to avoid being deported and continue their northward journey they must apply for and receive a humanitarian visitor card.
Nelson made his way to Central America from Haiti and then began heading northwest until reaching Mexican territory.
He said he had been accompanied on his journey by several cousins and other relatives who are currently at Siglo XXI.
The group thought their best chance of reaching the US was to first obtain legal status in Mexico, but after filing their paperwork they realized the country was not prepared for such a large migratory influx.
After being expelled from the migrant center, Nelson said he took up residence in La Esperanza along with hundreds of undocumented migrants, many from countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroon, Jamaica and Haiti, as well as a handful of people who hail from nations in Asia.
They endure difficult living conditions while waiting for the chance to launch immigration proceedings with the National Institute of Migration (Inami), even though they are aware that their mobility will be restricted during that weeks-long process.
Wadlin, a native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, told EFE that she is living in fear while patiently waiting for resolution of her family’s immigration proceedings at Siglo XXI, where her husband is currently being held.
Wadlin, who says she has no clothing or money, arrived from that African nation a month ago with her husband and young daughter and has settled down for now in La Esperanza without him.
“Jesus Christ, you don’t know how much I’ve suffered here. Everything is bad and I’m suffering a lot. I sleep here next to the garbage, not being able to bathe and with a baby,” she said.
Wadlin added that she does not know why her husband is being retained.
The struggles of Wadlin and Nelson typify the plight of hundreds of people in La Esperanza, a poor neighborhood that is being weighed down by the new migratory pressure and where fights occasionally break out between Haitians and Africans.
While these migrants endure their long and arduous wait, Mexico’s government is deploying 6,000 members of a new National Guard force to is southern border.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s administration is acting under heavy pressure from Washington, which has threatened to impose escalating tariffs on all Mexican imports if its southern neighbor does not take urgent measures to halt the flow of US-bound migrants.
In tandem with that deployment more checkpoints have been set up on highways, while airborne and naval units are being used to stop people from streaming northward through Mexico.
Deportations of mostly Central American migrants also are continuing without letup, Inami says.