A New Borderland: Tapachula and Soliciting Asylum in Mexico

Sometimes while working in the reception, after a few dozen calls with requests such as “Extension 112, please,” or is “_____ there,” you let your guard down, forgetting that a really incredible opportunity can emerge in an instant. Such a scenario happened to me just last week, when ACNUR, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, called to invite two members of the Casa’s team to a workshop on Migrants Soliciting Asylum in Mexico in Tapachula, Chiapas, the very next week. I was excited to take the message and to pass it along to the rest of the team. I had the great honor and pleasure in attending the workshop, entitled “International Protection and the Right to Solicit Asylum in Mexico’s Migratory Context,” this week with Arturo, our Peace Programs Coordinator.

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The site of the workshop, Tapachula, is 30 minutes from the Guatemalan border, and has historically been the primary entry point for Central American migrants crossing the border into Mexico. The participants in the workshop were migrant shelters from all over the country–Baja California, Coahuila, Monterrey, Nuevo León, Chiapas, Tabasco, and D.F.. The main purpose of the workshop was to learn about the legal rights of migrants to solicit asylum, and ways that migrant shelters can best defend the human rights of vulnerable populations, such as Unaccompanied Minors, the LGBTQ community, victims of human trafficking, and other victims of crime (gender violence, extortion, kidnapping, robbery, sexual assault, etc.).

The presence of so many shelters from all over the country, in what are loosely connected by the network of railroads that the poorest of migrants use to travel across the thousands of kilometers of Mexico, was hugely informative, as we each applied ACNUR’s methodology to our specific migrant contexts. The shelters in Chiapas, for example, experience massive waves of Central American migrants passing over the Guatemalan border, whereas in Tijuana, the vast majority of migrants in the shelters are Mexicans deported from the U.S. In Mexico City, the shelters receive a great number of refugees seeking asylum in Mexico as opposed to migrants in transit.

Factors that complicate the ability for Mexico to protect populations such as Unaccompanied Minors, is the fact that the U.S. has not signed the Law for the Protection of Children and Adolescents, which asserts as its main priority to protect the “Greater Interest” of children. Massive U.S. deportations have meant splitting up parents and children, such as deporting parents to Mexico and Central America while the children remain in the U.S., or deporting the children while the parents remain in the U.S. This has created problems for Central American migrants that are sent to be reunited with family members. They slip into a web of international laws that, even if there were enough resources to apply the law in Mexico, it wouldn’t be enough to protect their primary interest (generally, keeping the family together). Other issues on the border include deported Mexicans who are mistreated in the U.S. (abused by police, in deportation centers, etc.), who up arrival in Mexico can do very little to denounce U.S. authorities.

The workshop also gave insights into the complicated relationship between international organizations, such as ACNUR, and Agencies of the Mexican government, such as COMAR (Comission for Migrants and Refugees), which processes all the applications for asylum. For shelters, there is the added complication that the laws are changing all the time, and many shelters do not specialize in handling petitions for asylum, which take months and require institutional support from the government which is not always present.

I got a ton out of this experience, as did the Casa, (such as a nation-wide inventory of migrant shelters in Mexico, which will aid communication and support among our various organizations). It widened my knowledge of regional migration patterns in Mexico, and my knowledge of International Protection. While being aware that many of the human rights we discussed in this workshop are ignored by local authorities, national institutions and require a tremendous amount of structural change to implement, the ability to conceptualize human rights through concrete application of international law will help in receiving migrants and refugees in the Casa. In the meantime I are thrilled and so appreciative to have been given this opportunity and to see where it will lead in the future!