CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico -- Thousands of Mexican migrants seeking asylum in the United States are waiting at border crossings as a result of the White House's recent crackdown despite concerns for their safety in their home country, migrants and advocates say.
At Ciudad Juarez's Bridge of the Americas, also known as Puente Libre, dozens of frustrated migrants -- some holding newborns -- confronted Mexican soldiers last week, challenging a waiting list they worried was keeping them out of the U.S. unfairly.
"We have been here eight days -- how much longer?" a woman shouted.
"We all have rights!" a man yelled.
President Donald Trump's administration has sent nearly 50,000 migrants from Central America to Mexico under the Remain in Mexico program this year, and recently added an asylum ban for migrants from other countries. Mexican migrants are not subject to those conditions but nevertheless are finding they may have to wait from days to months for processing in about half a dozen Mexican border cities.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials issued a statement Monday saying the agency would process those who are waiting as capacity allows and "as expeditiously as possible."
"When our ports of entry reach capacity, we have to manage the queues and individuals presenting without documents may need to wait in Mexico as CBP officers work to process those already within our facilities," the statement said, noting that the facilities at border crossings "were not designed to hold hundreds of people at a time who may be seeking asylum."
The Homeland Security Department has devoted resources to expanding the Remain in Mexico program and building temporary tent courts. Last year, Customs and Border Protection stationed officers at the midpoints of border bridges to force asylum seekers to wait in Mexico, a process called metering.
Migrants were expected to maintain some of the lists, while others were supervised by Mexican immigration officials who faced allegations of corruption. Late last year, Mexican officials took control of the lists, which have grown to include more than 26,000 people, according to Human Rights Watch.
A spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union called metering Mexican asylum seekers illegal.
"The practice of metering has no basis in U.S. law," said Shaw Drake, policy council for the ACLU Border Rights Center in El Paso, Texas. "By turning away a Mexican you're sending them back into the arms of the country they are fleeing."
Drake said the ACLU was aware of Mexican asylum seekers waiting in Juarez, Matamoros, Nogales and Tijuana. He said Customs and Border Protection was supposed to ensure asylum seekers were processed quickly and not subjected to waiting lists supervised by fellow migrants.
Migrants from Chiapas and Guerrero states have been waiting for processing in Matamoros, where volunteers helped at least one Mexican family of three claim asylum Saturday, said local immigration lawyer Jodi Goodwin.
About 300 Mexican asylum seekers were waiting in Nogales on Monday, said Joanna Williams, director of education and advocacy for the Kino Border Initiative. She said Mexican migrants were also having to wait south of Douglas, Ariz.
Many of the migrants said they were fleeing organized crime. During the first eight months of this year, 23,724 people were slain in Mexico, a 3.5% increase compared with the same period the year before, which was the most violent year since the government started recording statistics in 1997. Some of the states that asylum seekers were fleeing -- Guerrero, Michoacan and Zacatecas -- were among those with the highest per-capita homicide rates last year.
In Tijuana on Monday, Mexican migrants who had been waiting for months to cross gathered at a border bridge to hear names read from the waiting list of those who would be allowed to cross and seek asylum from U.S. officials. A volunteer reading names from the list -- which included about 11,000 individuals -- said the majority of those waiting were Mexican.
Mexicans recently became the second-highest nationality seeking asylum in Juarez after Cubans, according to the Chihuahua Population Council.
A Section on 10/02/2019
Print Headline: Mexican seekers of asylum blocked