Mexico is Turning Old Factories Into Shelters to Help Stranded Asylum Seekers at the Border
A huge story that we’ve been following all year has to do with the thousands of asylum seekers at the border of Mexico and the United States. These migrants have traveled — mostly by foot — over hundreds of miles from Central America in order to find safety away from dangerous homes. However, instead of being able to seek asylum in America — a decades’ old process implemented by the US government — these South American immigrants have been stuck in limbo at the border.
The radical changes to the asylum process brought on by the Trump administration has left these individuals with no home and no hope for one in the near future. Instead, the Border Security Agency has kept thousands of asylum seekers in captivity. These detentions facilities are over packed, lacking basic amenities and separate children from their families. In short, America has truly abandoned these people. However, Mexico is working to clean up the mess left behind by the Trump Administration.
The Mexican government is converting empty factories near the border to house asylum seekers turned away from the US.
In a report by “Mother Jones,” we are now getting our first look at these facilities. Converted from an old maquiladora, the Leona Vicario Migrant Integration Center now acts as a shelter along the Mexican border. The center opened its doors about 4 months ago as the first of many shelters planned by the Mexican government in order to house displaced migrants. Currently, Leona Vicario Migrant Center provides a temporary home for 600 Central Americans.
Converting these factories is meant to combat an issue created by the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols program.
Also known as “Remain in Mexico,” under this new program, asylum seekers are denied entry into the United States and are instead forced to stay in Mexico during their asylum proceedings. The process of seeking asylum can take many months or even years, leaving these migrants without a home or resolution. Since the Migrant Protection Protocols program was began back in January 2019, more than 50,000 asylum seekers have been sent back to Mexico.
The decision to create residential housing out of these old factories came after President Trump threatened Mexico with steep tariffs if the government continued to allow asylum seekers to reach the border. These tariffs would devastate the Mexican economy so their government conceded to the USA’s demands. “Any expense we incur in building shelters like this one will be far less than what the tariffs would cost us,” Mexico’s Labor Undersecretary, Horacio Duarte Olivares, said at Leona Vicario’s opening ceremony.
Though Leona Vicario is obviously a re-purposed factory, there are clear signs that the space is attempting to mimic homes that these asylum seekers have lost.
A mural of Central American and Mexican flags adorns one of the center’s walls. This image is bordered by colorful hand prints from Leona Vicario’s first residents in an attempt to bring some color to the concrete floors and cinder block walls. The facility managers’ of the center attempt to bring some joy to the lives of the asylum seekers by organizing holiday celebrations and different workshops.
About half of the center’s population is made up of children of various ages. A makeshift nursery is communally watched over by the mothers of the migrant group. In another room, a temporary school has been established to help supplement the education that the children are being deprived of.
Outside the building, a giant camo-painted food truck is run by members of the Mexican military in order to provide meals to those housed at the facility. They even have a second tortilladora truck to pump out the thousands of tortillas eaten every day.
Centers like Leona Vicario are still an experiment and are not meant to be a long term solution for these families who are returned to Mexico.
Twitter / @MotherJones
When migrants first arrive at the border, they are usually held for a few weeks before being returned to Mexican land. Usually, they are not even aware of what is happening and still think they are in the United States. The hope with centers like Leona Vicario is that asylum seekers who are returned to Mexico can acclimate themselves to their new surroundings. These centers are only meant to house each group of migrants for two weeks at a time. That is how long it usually takes for the Mexican government to find jobs for the adults. However, they are still allowed to stay a few additional weeks in order to get their affairs in order. The goal is successfully getting the migrant on their feet while waiting out their asylum process.
The Mexican government is opening two more migrant integration centers by the end of this month with a forth planned in the near future. It isn’t an ideal situation but it’s a far cry from the cages and foil blankets of the detention facilities in the United States. Most importantly, families can stay together and that means everything in uncertain times like these.