Mexico steps up migrant raids in city near Guatemalan border

Feb 3, 2022, 1:44 AM | Updated: 3:46 pm

TAPACHULA, Mexico (AP) — Mexican immigration agents and National Guard have stepped up raids on migrants staying in small hotels and on the streets of the southern city of Tapachula, near the Guatemalan border, activists said Thursday.

The city has become a sort of way station for migrants from Central America, Haiti, Cuba and other places, because Mexico requires many people file for refugee or asylum status there.

Migrants rights’ activists complain Tapachula has become a kind of holding pen, because many people are stuck there for months on end, waiting for slow application processes. That in turn has angered residents of Tapachula, who see the city’s streets filled with migrants.

Raids have occurred before, but this week activists say agents swept up people from sidewalks outside migrant shelters. Many are forcibly returned to their home countries.

Agents are prohibited from entering the shelters to detain people, but many migrants have camped out around the over-crowded facilities.

At the Jesús El Buen Pastor shelter, an employee faced down agents at the doorway, but couldn’t prevent them from rounding up people outside.

“The migrants began to shout, some fled into the woods,” said a Mexican woman who lives in front of the shelter, who asked not to be named. “They filled three vans with migrants.”

Salvadoran migrant Mario Guzmán was detained by immigration agents a few weeks ago in Tapachula’s central park, even though he had papers showing he made a claim for asylum.

“They told us those papers were no good, they were fake, and they ripped them up,” said Guzmán, who was held for three weeks at an immigration detention center and given two weeks to leave Mexico.

Paola López Rodas, the local representative of the National Immigration Institute, said the raids were legal and came in response to complaints.

“We have received information, requests and complaints from residents, who ask for our presence to keep order, in a peaceful way,” said López Rodas.

The International Rescue Committee, a migrant aid group, said in a statement it “is deeply concerned by the recurring deployment of security forces in Mexico to block the way of people in need of protection.”

The immigration institute said Monday there has been a surge in detentions, with the number of migrants detained in Mexico up 78% in January from a year ago.

It said 16,740 migrants, mainly from Central America, were detained between Jan. 1 and Jan. 30. That compares with the 9,406 people detained without proper documents in the same period of 2021.

It was unclear if the number of migrants was less last year because of last winter’s coronavirus surge.

Children and youths under age 18 made up 14.5% of the migrants detained, and a total of 780 were found to be unaccompanied by family members, the agency said.

Of the 16,740 migrants, 6,297, or 38%, were from Asia, Africa, Europe or other parts of the world outside the Americas.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Mexico steps up migrant raids in city near Guatemalan border