Mexico's new immigration policies leave 3,500 African migrants stranded in Chiapas
New arrivals are being forced to leave Mexico through the southern border. Thousands remain stuck in Tapachula, Chiapas, where there have been clashes with the National Guard.

Human rights activists denounce that there is no support from the authorities: "They live from charity. It's a shameful situation"

Since last Monday a group of migrants of African origin have blocked access to the Siglo XXI migratory station in Tapachula, Chiapas, a city in which some 3,500 migrants from Africa were stranded after the changes to the regulation of the National Immigration Institute (INM) that took place in July.

On Tuesday, migrants from African nations clashed with troops of the National Guard. 17 were injured, including 12 minors who were affected by the use of tear gas.

After tense negotiations between the Trump administration and a delegation led by Secretary of the Exterior Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico managed to avoid the tariffs that the American President threatened. At that time, it was said that Trump's victory had been solely in the media and that Ebrard had not committed to anything that Mexico had not already offered since last December when AMLO became President.

Over the months it has become quite clear that this is not the case: In July, the then general director of Immigration Control and Verification, Ana Laura MartĂ­nez de Lara, issued a memo that changed the course of thousands of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Ciudad Juárez: on the front line of the immigration crisis

Traditionally, migrants from Central America or any other part of the world, went to the INM to obtain a document known as an official letter of exit. This document authorized the bearer to stay 20 days before leaving the country, which allowed them to reach the US border and start their asylum request with the US immigration authorities. However, the document issued and signed by MartĂ­nez de Lara states that migrants have to leave Mexico by the southern border.

This strategy proved successful. According to Ebrard himself, the migration from Mexico to the US fell by 40%, while the flow along the southern border was reduced by 36%.

"The INM (National Migration Institute, a Government Agency) is using this document to expel all foreigners, not only those from other continents but also Haitians, Cubans, and whoever requests the so-called exit document," explained activist Luis García Villagrán, who represents hundreds of African migrants in Chiapas.

This week, García Villagrán presented an appeal for protection for 812 people from 10 different African nations, including Cameroon, Togo, Angola, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and the Central African Republic. 30% of his clients are minors.

I want to be very emphatic that there are 300 or 350 homeless children, sleeping in very poor conditions outside the immigration station, under terrible heat and afternoon rains. Without anybody's help; on the contrary, with terrible repression. Yesterday they were beaten, they threw tear gas at them

"We are protecting them against this document with two arguments: that Ana Laura MartĂ­nez de Lara, who issued said document, usurped roles since, according to the organization chart, it had to be signed by the head of immigration regulation," GarcĂ­a explained. "Second, this order misinterprets the law. The law does not specify by which border they should leave the country. It is an illegal document, in our opinion. MartĂ­nez de Lara says she received orders from above. We believe that a federal judge will determine that this order does not apply, even last night a requisition from the three courts arrived making precise clarifications about these exit orders that have been given to at least a thousand extracontinental migrants. "

According to García Villagrán, there are over 3,500 migrants from African nations in Tapachula, Chiapas alone, close to the border with Guatemala. "Approximately 500 are being locked inside the immigration station, while 1,500 are staying outside the station, and about 2,500 throughout the city," he said to LPO.

The objective of the Mexican Government seems to be to tire the migrants, forcing them to leave the country for Central America or return to their nations of origin. According to the activist, the Mexican government is not offering either food, shelter or health services to these migrant communities.

Photo: Luis García Villagrán

"These migrants are subsisting on charity," García Villagrán said. "Some eat only once a day, whatever they can get. The migration delegate spoke to the Catholic church here so that they no longer gave them food. The church used to come and hand out a thousand meals a day, yet the authorities put pressure on them not to do so anymore" he said.

"The real purpose is to humiliate and wear them out in any possible way and then have them leave. This is a shameful situation for our country."

On the northern border, something similar happens. Just a month ago, the first shelter operated by the Federal Government opened its doors in Ciudad Juárez. The majority of migrants who are waiting for their asylum applications remain in shelters managed by civil associations and churches. Although many of these shelters indeed receive resources from the three levels of government.

"We are living the civil rights movement of the Latino community, journalists must speak up against injustices"

According to the activist, on the southern border the situation is far more critical since they have no support from any agency, "neither civil protection, nor the Health Secretariat, nor the National Human Rights Commission, nobody at all," he said. "I am there every day. There is no response from the local Government. This psychological harassment against these migrants is a shame. Also, there is terrible xenophobia against these communities."

García Villagrán lamented that during the confrontation with the authorities on Tuesday, twelve of the injured were minors.

"I want to be very emphatic that there are 300 or 350 homeless children, sleeping in very poor conditions outside the immigration station, under terrible heat and afternoon rains," he said. "Without anybody's help; on the contrary, with terrible repression. Yesterday they were beaten, they threw tear gas at them, 17 of them were injured, at least seven ended up in the hospital and the authority is turning a blind eye on this situation." 

The migrant defender said they expected a positive resolution from the federal judge later this week. 

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