Things That Matter

Cartels Are Targeting Migrants Forced To Stay In Mexico Under Trump’s ‘Remain In Mexico’ Policy

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’d know that the Trump administration has had the bright idea of forcing asylum seekers to wait in Mexico until their cases are heard in the US federal courts. While there are definitely parts of Mexico that would be great to stay in for a week on break, this is no holiday for these asylum seekers. In an effort to profit from some of the most vulnerable people in Mexico, cartel violence has specifically targeted the areas where migrants are being temporarily housed. 

The violence has gotten so bad that some have abandoned their asylum applications.

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At this point, it’s hard to keep up with what’s happened so far to threaten the lives of migrants. In Nuevo Laredo alone, there’s an entire laundry list of incidents that have made asylum seekers uneasy. Last week, shooting broke out between gang members on the main boulevard to Nuevo Laredo’s airport. An educated guess would say that The Cartel of the Northeast was responsible for the trouble, since they dominate that area of town. It’s not uncommon to see them riding around in armored cars emblazoned with “Tropas del Infierno” across the sides. It’s their constant presence that keeps migrants constantly anxious and alert.

The government is offering bus trips to other cities outside the border zone.

Instagram / @altavozmx

In an effort to alleviate tensions, the government has provided free bus trips for asylum seekers to places such as Monterrey and Tapachula, which are around 3 and 36 hours away from Nuevo Laredo, respectively. However, the trips have been disrupted by gang members, who take it upon themselves to stop the buses and abduct the passengers. Abductions give cartels hostages that they can use to blackmail relatives in exchange for payouts. It’s clear that it’s not safe for migrants to stay in this environment. And apparently, it’s barely even safe to leave through provided channels. This has resulted in asylum seekers abandoning their applications to return to the relative safety of home – despite the fact that the dangers there had prompted them to leave in the first place.

Aid providers say the Migrant Protection Protocols, or MPP, are to blame.

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So far, the MPP have resulted in approximately 35,000 migrants being sent back to Mexican border cities to wait for their day in court. In fact, 4,500 people have been sent to Nuevo Laredo alone. What essentially happens under the MPP is that, once asylum seekers reach US ports of entry, they are sent back to Mexico with a date to return and make their case for asylum via video link. Migrants can be stuck waiting for that day from anywhere between two to four months.

So why did Mexico agree to the MPP in the first place, when it’s had some very dire outcomes?

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Well, Trump had threatened Mexico with tariffs if they didn’t agree with the MPP. Now, it’s all well and good to say that Mexico could have done a China, and dived head first into a trade war. But Mexico doesn’t have that sort of economic power. Most of its trade is conducted with the US. China, on the other hand, has diversified its trade relationships. As a result, it doesn’t depend on business with the US to keep the Chinese economy running. Mexico, being backed into a corner as it were, had no choice but to agree to the terms of the MPP.

There are a few reasons why the Trump administration has pursued this course of action – and none of them are good.

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There are two main reasons why the Trump administration has developed the MPP: money, and the strict enforcement of immigration law. Where money is concerned – it costs a lot to employ the 150 judges who oversee immigration cases, and whatever other staff and facilities are needed as part of both detaining and processing asylum seekers. It’s must less expensive to just not do that.

With these type of policies, many worry violence could begin to spread.

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As far as strict enforcement of immigration law … well, we’ve seen a lot of that already with the overflow of inmates at border detention centers, and the exponential increase of ICE raids and arrests. What’s been discussed less by the media is the fact that, in 2018, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions enacted legislation that determined migrants could not apply for asylum based on the threat of domestic or cartel violence, because it’s too hard for the government to verify. So, why even bother allowing migrants to leech off US resources, if you’re pretty much planning to deny their request for asylum anyway?

All of this is great news in light of the agreement that’s in the works between Guatemala and the US. Should it be ratified, Guatemala would be set to be the next Mexico, and also house asylum seekers while they wait for their applications to be reviewed by the US. This could potentially mean a rise in cartel violence in Guatemala, too.

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