CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico – Tens of thousands of mainly Central American migrants are still on Mexican soil waiting for hearings on their applications for asylum in the United States a year after the governments in Washington and Mexico City established the program “Remain in Mexico.”
On Jan. 25, 2019, the Mexican government agreed that the US could send asylum-seekers back to Mexico pending the processing of their applications.
Migrants sent back under Remain in Mexico are distributed among at least eight different cities in the border region, five of which are known for high levels of violent crime: Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez, Piedras Negras, Nuevo Laredo and Matamoros.
But violence is also an issue in other communities that are hosting asylum-seekers, such as Nogales and Reynosa.
“To be honest with you, I don’t feel safe here,” Hector Henry Fune, a Cuban migrant staying at a shelter in Reynosa, told EFE. “The day I arrived here, I was captured by a gang. They kept me locked in a room for two days and my family had to pay money.”
Carmen Vargas, meanwhile, finds herself living on the bridge spanning the Rio Grande between Matamoros and Brownsville, Texas.
“According to them (US officials), they send us to a shelter, they send us to be fine. But they only leave us here, without a peso, with no clothes, and look how we manage,” the Honduran woman said.
Time crawls for the roughly 60,000 migrants - Human Rights Watch says the number is closer to 80,000 - forced to wait on the Mexican side of the border for a hearing in the US with an uncertain outcome.
“I’m going to think about whether or not to wait, because there is no good news. Because people go, and there are people who have gone to three appointments (with US authorities) and haven’t gotten a favorable response,” Maria Rivas, also from Honduras, told EFE in Matamoros.
She said that she and her 6-year-old daughter subsist on charity.
Besides the day-to-day challenges of survival, the migrants struggle to come up with the money to pay a US-based attorney to guide them through the process.
US Congressman Henry Cuellar, who represents a district in Texas, recently pointed out that 88 percent of asylum requests are rejected.
Migrants in Ciudad Juarez, which sits at the western end of the boundary separating the Aztec nation from Texas, are equally disillusioned about the Remain in Mexico program.
Yamileth Ramirez left Honduras six months ago and still has no idea of when she will get a hearing in the US.
“I say to the president of the United States to please give us hope. And not have us waiting here suffering, enduring so many months for nothing. To give us the opportunity or some hope so was can continue waiting,” she said.
Another Honduran woman spoke of the difficulties of the journey.
“I paid a migrant-smuggler and it was very hard,” Marisela Flores told EFE. “You can imagine what one goes through.”
Ivan Jimenez, who runs the Leona Vicario migrant shelter in Ciudad Juarez, described the Remain in Mexico program to EFE as “dehumanizing.”
“Completely anomalous” was how the Latin America director of Human Rights Watch characterized the situation on Mexico’s northern border.
“It’s a high-risk zone of the country, with a strong presence of (criminal) cartels, where the security forces are operating and where there are absolutely obvious levels of insecurity,” Jose Miguel Vivanco said. “We believe that it’s a policy or practice that is in contradiction with international standards in the matter of asylum.”
In a report released in September, Doctors Without Borders said that 45 percent of the migrants who received medical attention said they experienced some form of violence on the northbound journey.