Despite President Donald Trump still pushing for a border wall and aiming to completely stop migration into the United States, there are roughly 2,000 people in Mexico waiting to apply for asylum here.
Having made a deal with Mexico to keep the migrants there rather than allowing them into the United States while their applications are considered — the so-called “Remain in Mexico” policy — Trump is still maintaining the option to declare a state of emergency in order to build a border wall if Congress does not approve the $5.7 billion he has requested for the project.
But away from Washington and the president’s Twitter presence are thousands of people fleeing poverty and extreme violence in countries such as Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.
For the thousands who have survived the dangerous trek out of their countries and across Mexico, the final obstacle is actually asking for asylum at the border, which is legal under U.S. and international law.
For those trapped there, the logistics of housing remain an issue. For instance, the temporary El Barretal shelter in Tijuana was to be closed last week, but authorities still don’t know what to do with its hundreds of residents — down from around 5,000.
Amnesty International USA’s executive director Margaret Huang told ThinkProgress that authorities sheltering migrants “are not getting any help from the United States, not from the Mexican government or the local government.”
She is part of a team visiting Mexico and checking on the welfare of Central American migrants there. She spoke to ThinkProgress from Tijuana, where she met with the country’s national migration officials and visited shelters.
Huang said that while Mexican authorities are doing what they can with limited resources, there’s no infrastructure there to track migration, collect data, and meet the needs of those arriving.
Mexican immigration authorities told her that many of the migrants had either arrived carrying infectious diseases or had become ill while there. But trying to keep track of things is hard, even as Mexican authorities provide temporary status — amounting to amnesty.
“There’s no central data collection on who is coming and what kind of shape they’re in. It’s all anecdotal,” said Huang.
While she had visited a small shelter earlier on Monday — an established one that is not intended for the migrants alone — Huang had also noticed that tent cities had popped up around the city.
“A number of these shelters were clearly improvised,” she said. “Nothing is being planned, nothing is being organized.”
The policy of forcing migrants to stay in Mexico was supposed to be enforced as of Friday last week, but has been delayed, though Huang said that it was due to start either later on Monday or on Tuesday.
On Monday, Mexico’s immigration agency announced that it would not accept minors turned back from the U.S. border. It’s unclear if this would mean that U.S. authorities would be prompted to take entire families or if this policy is aimed at unaccompanied minors.
Many of the migrants at the border have already been stuck for months as the processing of those trying to enter the country has slowed to a crawl.
After a visit to a migrant shelter in Mexico in the fall, Amnesty researcher Brian Griffey told ThinkProgress that things were dire, with over-crowded tents, poor sanitary conditions and a number of illnesses running rampant throughout the migrant community.
They were also experiencing food shortages and psychological distress.
Doctors Without Borders (which goes by its French initials, MSF) has been working at El Barretal, providing health care to migrants there, many of whom are struggling with trauma.
“Some 90 percent of the patients treated by our teams have suffered some kind of psychological harm or physical violence,” said Alberto Macín, a psychologist working for MSF in Mexico. The fear of deportation and detainment only adds to their anxiety.
One thing is for sure, though: As long as conditions in their home countries remain untenable, people will keep risking this journey north.
The fact is, there are more caravans coming — a reported 10,000 people have asked for temporary, 4-month Mexican visas as they are crossing into the country from Central American countries.
It’s unclear if members of these various caravans will want to stay and work in Mexico for the long run, or if they are simply aware that they might be stuck there pending their applications for asylum in the United States being processed and perhaps accepted.