Social Issues

Christmas not so merry for migrants stranded on Mexico-US border

By Carlos Zuñiga

Tijuana, Mexico, Dec 25 (EFE).- The thousands of mainly Central American migrants whose quest to reach the United States has led them to shelters or makeshift encampments in northern Mexico are finding the Christmas season especially painful.

Lizbeth and her two daughters, who left their native Honduras to escape pervasive violence, have spent the last three months in Tijuana, just across the border from San Diego, California.

They undertook the arduous journey expecting to encounter a less hostile reception from US immigration authorities based on the promises made by Joe Biden in 2020 during his ultimately successful campaign to replace the anti-immigrant Donald Trump as president.

“It’s difficult, more so when one thinks that changing location is better and perhaps it’s more difficult than one imagines,” Lizbeth tells Efe.

“My daughter is little, she is 7 years old and doesn’t know what day Christmas is,” she says of her decision to avoid mentioning the holiday to the kids.

“I believe that having to explain it (to the 7-year-old) would be the hardest part, because everyone is expecting a call, a message, a gift,” Lizbeth adds with tears in her eyes.

The situation in Tijuana, site of the busiest border crossing, reflects the surge in northbound migration that saw US immigration authorities detain more than 1.7 million undocumented people in the 2021 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30.

During the first 10 months of 2021, Mexican authorities intercepted 252,000 migrants and deported upwards of 100,000, numbers not seen in more than 15 years.

Mexico has been criticized for its treatment of the migrants and for deploying more than 28,000 military elements on its northern and southern borders.

Three weeks ago, the Biden administration and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador agreed to reinstate “Remain in Mexico,” a policy which forced migrants seeking asylum in the US to wait south of the border while their applications are processed.

Trump had used the threat of trade sanctions to coerce the Mexican government into agreeing to harbor third-country nationals applying for asylum in the US and his administration sent 71,071 applicants to Mexico.

The Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), as the program is officially known, was denounced by human rights organizations and deeply unpopular in Mexico and on taking office in January, Biden suspended it.

But the states of Texas and Missouri sued the Biden administration and a Trump-appointed federal judge issued an injunction to compel the government to resume the MPP.

As of the beginning of this month, more than 26,500 migrants on MPP lists were in eight Mexican border cities, according to data from the University of Texas.

One of those people is Samanta, another Honduran woman, who confesses to having mixed emotions about spending Christmas in Tijuana.

While sad to be far from home and family, she is happy to have a bed in a shelter that organized a holiday celebration.

Jose Maria Garcia Lara, director of the Juventud 2000 shelter in Tijuana, said that his establishment is planning a Christmas dinner for more than 120 migrants. EFE

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