The coronavirus pandemic has placed transmigrants in Mexico at great risk. Below, are ten strategies designed to provide guidance to migrants traveling through Mexico in a temporary or irregular migratory situation, in the process of seeking refuge or asylum, and who find themselves in Mexico as the US, Mexico and their Central American neighbors tighten borders to combat coronavirus.
By Bernardo Mendez Lugo, Executive Director of the pro-migrant foundation, América Sin Muros – Fundación para migrantes
1.- All migrants in Mexico regardless of immigration status have a right to access Education and Health, and the coronavirus emergency should not be a pretext to not fulfill these principles.
The stay-at-home quarantine measure has been extended throughout Mexico until May 31, 2020. It is possible that on May 17 reactivation measures will resume the economic recovery process. At that time, some restrictions may be lifted, but everything will depend on how the pandemic curve behaves and if the health emergency is manageable.
Each city and state of the United Mexican States has its own restriction measures and its ways of executing them with fines and penalties in place. Do not risk infection and abide by the local rules.
2.- For updates to changes on migratory regularization with minimum stay requirements (between one and two years), consult the National Institute of Migration, INAMI.
América Sin Muros suggests that COMAR(Mexican Commission for Refugee Aid) speed up paperwork to so they can serve the more than 40,000 asylum seekers in Mexico, and thus protect migrants from greater risks.
3.- Avoid third parties who propose their services to you. Approach organizations, such as the Mexican Commission for Refugee Support (COMAR), UN agencies (such as ACNUR-UNHCR and OIM-IOM), and civil non-profit organizations that support transmigrants, and people seeking asylum.
If you are arriving through the southern border, inform yourself of your rights. Find representatives from human rights commissions, such as the UN, and seek shelters operated by religious organizations that can provide assistance.
If you have symptoms of illness, in particular dry cough and fever, ask for immediate attention at the nearest clinic or health center. Dengue cases have also increased and it is important to take care of yourself and be alert.
The International Organization for Migration published a 2018 directory of shelters for migrants in the United Mexican States.
The following mobile application prepared by the leading organization Sin Fronteras can be very useful for migrants and refugees: Contigo Sin Fronteras: Una webapp para migrantes y refugiados – Sin Fronteras IAP. This application is updated and includes information on COVID-19.
Unfortunately, some Mexican authorities can no longer be trusted for their tendency to criminalize migration. Be well informed, avoid rumors, do not fall into the hands of human traffickers who offer you to go to the United States. If there is proof of any affiliation or closeness with “polleros” or “coyotes,” you could be detained and remain a prisoner for a long time.
4.-Depending on your personal and family situation and the reasons as to why you had to leave your country (natural disaster, violence, extortion, political persecution, etc.), you should seek the most suitable support for your particular situation. To apply for refuge it is pertinent to contact COMAR. If you do not suffer political persecution in your country of origin it is possible that the embassy and its consular section in your country of origin will guide you so you can obtain a passport, other national identity document, or renew your documents.
5.-To access temporary shelters, contact the municipal authorities of the city where you are, or contact pro-migrant organizations, religious orders, churches and shelters. Try to investigate if there are cases of coronavirus infections in the shelter or camp where you are. Take extra precautions with vulnerable older adults. Here is a list of hostels throughout Mexico published by BBVA-Bancomer.
In the case of Mexico City, there are human mobility laws that protect migrants regardless of their immigration status. Avoid crowds and spaces with more than 100 people, and follow the protocol of maintaining a social distance of more than a meter away from another person.
The office for the Coordination of Migrants of SIBISO (Secretary of Inclusion, and Social Welfare of the CDMX) can connect you with pro-migrant programs in Mexico City. They provide assistance to the migrant population. To protect your rights, look for shelters and defenders of human rights.
SEDEREC (Secretary of Rural Development and Equity for Communities) of Mexico City is no longer in operation. Follow the instructions of the Secretary of Health in a timely manner and avoid spreading rumors or false news. Every state in Mexico has directives and health instructions. Find out about sanitary restrictions in each state and obligations you have such as the use of mouth masks, departure times, and the use of public transport (in Nuevo León, for example, the use of mouth masks for public transport users is mandatory).
6.-An alternative to temporary shelter is to seek refugee through the Jesuit network of shelters. There about 50 of them. Visit: Servicio Jesuita a Migrantes, México.
Various religious orders such as Scalabrinians, Franciscans, and orders of nuns of different denominations maintain shelters as well as civil society organizations. Their addresses, telephone numbers, and emails can be found through their Facebook pages and in the directories of the municipal presidencies and in the Paisano Guide, which contains an orientation section for Central Americans. In this coronavirus contingency period, stay calm, maintain a physical distance, no hugs, no kisses, no handshakes, stay in your space, take care that your environment is always clean, and wash your hands frequently.
7.-If your desire is to reach the border of Mexico with the United States to ask for refuge in the United States, you should inform yourself about the safest routes to reach the border with the United States. You should take into account that as of May 2019, the Mexican federal government, through INAMI, has imposed a policy of immigration containment, keeping Central American migrants in four states in the Mexican southeast: Chiapas, Campeche, Tabasco, and Oaxaca.
In recent months, the aim is to deport the largest number of Central Americans in an irregular situation; in most cases, there is no evaluation of the risks that exist for their lives when deported to their countries of origin. Relatively speaking, the higher the temperature in the place where the virus is, the less likely it is to survive, but this does not mean forgetting the hygiene recommendations.
In addition, you should be well informed of what can happen when trying to request asylum or refuge at the border crossing with the United States. If you travel with your minor children, understand that there are risks for family separation and if your request for refuge in the US is accepted, be aware of the waiting time and the conditions you will wait under. If you have applied for asylum or refuge in Mexico, you can no longer apply in the US or in another country. With the emergence of the coronavirus, the US government has increased its immigration control measures and a greater reduction in acceptance of asylum cases is expected for Central American applicants. It has already been announced that the US will not grant any asylum to Central Americans.
US immigration attorneys point out that domestic violence in your home country and certain types of gang or extortioner criminal violence no longer qualify as a reason to apply for asylum or refuge in the US.
Get good advice before approaching the US-Mexico border on these issues as well as recent sanitary measures to prevent coronavirus expansion. In the current health emergency situation, it is very difficult that you can cross into the United States. Mexican immigration authorities can detain you and return or deport you to your country of origin and they can also place you in quarantine for 14 to 21 days.
8.- Under the current federal administration in the United States headed by President Donald Trump, a strongly anti-immigrant policy against Mexicans and Central Americans is clearly observed.
You should be very cautious when approaching the border with the United States, since throwing stones at immigration authorities, the national guard, or the military permits a violent response with rifles. In addition, at various points along the border with Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, militia groups known as “minutemen” are active, who in various previous situations fire high-powered weapons at migrants trying to cross the border.
Unfortunately, the anti-immigrant climate in the United States has been reproduced in Mexico due to President Trump’s threats to the Mexican government. And at this time, the coronavirus health alert may increase xenophobia in Mexico.
To find out details about the state of migrant shelters in Mexico, the Spanish newspaper, El País, writes about the critical conditions in shelters on the northern border of Mexico. Shelters are operating beyond capacity and warn of lack of resources to isolate a COVID-19 affected patients. Numerous cases of diarrhea, vomiting, and fever have been reported. There are no preventive measures in place, which affect one of the most vulnerable groups, the undocumented migrants. Shelters have been routinely operating beyond capacity, a phenomenon triggered by the Stay in Mexico (MPP) program, a tool Trump imposed on Mexico, and López Obrador adopted. The measure stipulates that migrants who are processing their asylum in the United States must wait in Mexico.
Bernardo Méndez Lugo | Mexico
A Mexican Diplomat retired, he has been executive director of Promigrant Foundation Americasinmuros.org based in Mexico City since March 2017, with a worldwide network of volunteers in more than 100 cities. He was founder Professor at Universidad Autónoma Metrópolitana Xochimilco campus and did teaching & research for 20 years. In 1990, he joined the Mexican Foreign Service and was Consul in Montreal, Atlanta, San Francisco, Tucson, San Salvador and Chicago. He has published hundreds of articles and coauthored more than ten books and has been international Consultant for UN PAHO-WHO for public health, World Bank, OECD and UNIDO. He has delivered courses, workshops and lectures in many countries and Mexico. He is currently giving lectures on Covid-19 and international migration. Twitter: @berniemendez. Correo personal: [email protected]