Precarious work, low pay afflict migrants stranded in Mexico

By Manuel Ayala

Tijuana, Mexico, Jul 5 (EFE).- Migrants stranded in Mexico’s northern border region have been forced to seek employment there due to the United States’ coronavirus-triggered Title 42 restriction, a public health order that has already been used millions of times to turn away potential asylum-seekers at the border.

The reality has been harsh for foreigners in that transit country, where precarious, informal work, meager pay and a complete absence of benefits have been a fact of life for most.

Judith Cabrera, an activist and co-director of the Tijuana-based Border Line Crisis Center, told Efe in an interview that the problems persist despite efforts made in places such as that northwestern border city.

Those issues are longstanding problems in T.J., “but for people who come from outside it’s more complicated because of their lack of familiarity with the city, (whether it’s not knowing) how to get around, where to look for work, where it’s safe (to go),” she said.

“And on top of that there’s the problem of being undocumented.”

Byron Fuentes, a native of Guatemala, told Efe that he receives a salary of 1,200 pesos (around $60) a week, an amount insufficient to meet his basic needs and those of his family.

“We have to buy all the food. Sometimes someone gets sick and we have to use money to buy medicine, and it’s truly not enough,” he said.

A study last year by Tijuana’s The College of the Northern Border, known as El Colef, found that the social integration of foreign migrants largely depends on whether or not they have their documents in order.

An immigrant seeking formal work in Mexico must have a document showing proof of an open asylum case from the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance (Comar) or a visa for humanitarian reasons from the National Institute of Migration (INM).

They also must obtain a unique identity code, known as the CURP, and a tax ID number from the Tax Administration Service (SAT).

After applying for a position, they also have to open a bank account using a valid passport from their country of origin, a step that for many is fraught with difficulties.

Enrique Lucero, director of the Migrant Attention Office in Tijuana, told Efe that many people do not have a passport and cannot be hired because the company requires an account for depositing their wages.

This problem leads many people, such as Ilse Viga Lopez, to seek informal employment. That native of Honduras accepted a job at a Korean company that required her to sew garments for interminable shifts of between 12 and 24 hours a day.

“I have two children. I’m a single mother. I couldn’t afford not to accept the work, but now I’m unemployed because they took away the work. The production ended, and we’re surviving on what little I saved and what my father, who works at chatarrera (recycling center), contributes,” Viga Lopez said.

Racial discrimination is another problem for some migrants even if they have all of the required documents. That has been case for some Central Americans and for Haitian and African migrants, for whom the language barrier is an additional major stumbling block.

Viga Lopez lamented that the companies “don’t pay you fairly because you’re a migrant, and the problem is that if you’re looking for work the first thing they tell you is ‘you’re an immigrant, you’re not from Mexico.’ And that’s very tough because we just want to work.”

Cabrera, the activist, said harassment by police prevents people from seeking work because they fear their money will be taken away.

“They’re also easy targets for unscrupulous people who know they can exploit them and know where to find them,” she added.

The situation in Tijuana is the product of record migration flows to the United States, whose Customs and Border Protection agency took more than 1.7 million migrants into custody during the 2021 fiscal year, which ended last Sept. 30.

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