A sudden increase in the number of Mexican families and asylum seekers trying to cross into the United States has raised fears of a new border crisis, frustrating Department of Homeland Security officials who are unable to deter Mexican nationals with the same restrictive immigration policies designed to keep Central Americans out of the country.
Mexico surpassed Guatemala and Honduras in August to again become the single-largest source of unauthorized migration to the United States, according to administration officials who provided data on the Mexican migrants but were not authorized to speak about the situation publicly. In recent weeks, thousands of Mexican adults and children have been camping out in lines at U.S. border crossings, sleeping in tents while awaiting a chance to apply for safe refuge.
Most concerning to U.S. authorities is the percentage of Mexicans declaring a fear of persecution or harm, a claim that typically prevents their rapid deportation. Their requests for asylum are adding to the backlog of nearly 1 million pending cases in U.S. immigration courts, and by law, the United States must process their claims.
Neither the government of Mexico nor the Trump administration has publicly acknowledged the sudden change, a trend that threatens to shatter the fragile detente between the U.S. president and Mexican leader Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
The number of Mexican adults arrested along the border jumped by about 25 percent from the end of July to the end of September, a period when migration from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador continued to decline, according to the latest statistics obtained by The Washington Post. The number of Mexican family groups taken into custody also surged, officials said.
Many of the migrant Mexican families say they are escaping corruption and flaring drug violence, which is intensifying by the day. In the state of Sinaloa, waves of cartel gunmen with automatic weapons attacked security forces and torched vehicles Thursday after the arrest of one of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán’s sons, sending panicked residents fleeing as the capital city of Culiacan descended into chaos. In a humiliating blow to the Mexican government, authorities were forced to release the drug lord’s son to stop the onslaught.
But there also are indications that some are heading to the border with their children after hearing that the United States was opening its doors to Mexican asylum seekers.
In Ciudad Hidalgo, a municipality of about 55,000 in the state of Michoacán, local officials say hundreds of residents have suddenly left for the U.S. border during the past two months with plans to apply for asylum.
About once a week, a commercial bus owned by a local travel agency shuttles people directly to Tijuana and other border towns, offering asylum seekers a “door-to-door package,” said Eduardo Cortés, the city manager.
“It’s a phenomenon that took us all by surprise here,” Cortés said. “It’s like the rumor hit the streets and now people think there’s a chance for them to improve their lives by moving to the United States.”
Ciudad Hidalgo is one of the safer cities in a violent state — more than a dozen police officers were massacred this month in a cartel ambush in Michoacán. The city’s streets and plazas are crowded, even at night, with live music and families on nightly strolls, but it has had major problems with gender-based violence, Cortés said.