Mexico – long a place where migrants from Central America made a waypoint between their homes and the United States – is now in the position of accepting thousands of refugee applications every year. People from the Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) are hedging their bets on Mexico as the place to take them in now that the American government is cracking down on illegal immigration and making clear that asylum is not guaranteed.
Maureen Meyer, a senior associate at the Washington Office on Latin America, explained in a story from the Associated Press:
“If you look at Mexico’s definition of who can qualify for asylum, it’s much broader than the United States,” Meyer said. “If you are fleeing widespread violence in your country, you may be able to qualify for asylum in Mexico, whereas in the U.S. you have to prove that you belong to very specific groups of people.”
The numbers speak for themselves. Refugee applications in Mexico have risen substantially over the past couple of years. In 2015, it received 3,424 applications. In 2016, that number jumped to 8,794. We are barely halfway through 2017 and the number of refugee applications in Mexico already stands at 5,464 – well on track to surpass last year.
Experts say word of America’s tougher immigration policies is the main reason for the change in Central American migration patterns. People wishing to leave the Northern Triangle are acutely aware of what to expect in Mexico versus the United States. For example, the U.S. now denies around 80 percent of asylum claims by individuals from that part of the world. In comparison, Mexico granted asylum to about one of every three applicants from Central America in 2016.
They know which country will most likely let them stay.
Things didn’t always used to be this way. More than 100,000 unaccompanied minors entered the United States between October 2013 and July 2015. The Obama administration granted them (almost all exclusively from the Northern Triangle) expedited resettlement under an emergency order. As many as 2.7 million people from Central America were living in the United States in 2013.
The Trump White House, for their part, has made it clear to illegal immigrants that coming to this country is not worth the time and effort. Government officials have pressured Mexico to take in more immigrants while publicly discouraging others from attempting to reach the country illegally.
“We have asked them [Northern Triangle countries] to ask their citizens to not waste the money and head north, do not get on that terribly dangerous network,” John Kelly, the secretary of Homeland Security, reported to the Senate in June. “Stay where they are, because if they come here, this is no longer an illegal-alien-friendly environment.”