Daily Dispatch 8/29/2019: Migrants from Africa and Caribbean face new challenges in Mexico

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Daily Dispatch

August 29, 2019


Haitians and others waiting at Tapachula border station in June. Photo: Associated Press

Under pressure from the United States, Mexico has stepped up its campaign against migration, with increased militarization along its southern border, expanded detention and deportations. Among the changes in law meant to keep migrants from crossing Mexico to seek entry into the United States, is the removal of some provisions for temporary 20-day visas that permitted people to cross through Mexico. It is a policy change that is particularly impacting people from Africa and the Caribbean. From Alianza Americas’ blog:

Previously, African migrants could enter Mexico, often after traveling from South America, and receive a 20-day temporary permit allowing them to travel through the country and seek protection in the United States. This practice has now been discontinued. Now the 20-day permit only permits them to request permission to remain in Mexico or to exit the country through the southern border. This means they are prevented from continuing their transit north to seek protection in the United States. This is clearly an example of the López Obrador administration acting as de-facto migration police, enforcing the Trump administration’s attempts to limit access to asylum in the United States.  

The change in law has sparked protests at border stations in Tapachula, Chiapas along the border with Guatemala. For groups offering protection and support to migrants in Mexico, the changes in law present enormous challenges:

Civil society organizations remain the chief source of protection for migrants in southern Mexico, but they face serious challenges in carrying out their mission of offering guidance and psychosocial support to African and Haitian people who do not speak Spanish. Many of these individuals are insisting on their right to seek asylum in the United States and refuse to return to Guatemala due to the precarious economic and social problems of that country. The protestors demand that the Mexican government reverse the policy change, allowing them to continue their journey to the United States. Mexico risks exacerbating tensions and violating human rights on its southern border, if it continues to contain people in Chiapas.

Read the full story from Alianza America’s here.

These developments, coupled with Mexico bussing people who are part of the “Remain in Mexico” program to Tapachula to await their asylum hearing (we reported on Monday here), and Mexico’s other expansive enforcement operations already under way, means that we can forget about the border wall. Trump, with Lopez Obrador’s acquiescence, has turned the border into a 1400 mile barricade that extends to Guatemala.  

Meanwhile, back in the states…

I wonder how low this administration can go. I mean, every day I read and report on immigration stories and think, “It can’t get much worse, right?” Wrong.  So, what is the latest spittle in the face of people from other countries who come to the United States issued by this administration? It is a completely unnecessary shift in practice that is denying deferments for people who are running out of time on visas, or whose visas may have expired, while they seek medical treatment in this country. From WBUR in Boston:

Dismaying immigrants and advocates, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) sent out letters saying the agency will no longer consider most deferrals of deportation for people with serious medical conditions, documents show.

The agency is now saying those decisions will be made by another agency: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

That was not made clear to Boston-area immigrants who received the denial letters last week. Advocates said they received no formal announcement of a change in policy.

The small program known as “medical deferred action” allows people to remain in the U.S. for two-year periods if they can prove extreme medical need. Many of the people affected by the policy change came to the U.S. through a visa or other permitted status and are requesting to stay beyond those terms to receive medical treatment.

In a follow up story published yesterday, WBUR points out that neither ICE or USCIS seem very clear what is going on, and that members of Congress may hold hearings to determine the status of the program.

“What’s so troubling about this beyond the cruelty of it, is the lack of transparency around the process,” Pressley, a Democrat, said. “There was no public comment period, not even a public announcement of this, and so I’m working with my colleagues to get answers and to urge this administration to change course.”

Medical deferred action has historically allowed eligible migrants to extend their time in the U.S. in order to receive life-saving medical treatment that advocates say is often only available to them here.

Transferring the program from USCIS, which is supposed to help immigrants navigate federal procedure, to ICE, which is the enforcement arm of the Department of Homeland Security’s immigration focus, means that this program is being treated as some kind of potential violation, and the people participating in it immediately suspect. These are people seeking medical procedures here they cannot get back home. Aren’t we supposed to be proud of our med-tech industry? Isn’t this good for the business of medicine? I mean, why do this other than to simply be cruel? I have to imagine that there is some group scouring the federal register for every program with the word “immigrant” in it and trying to figure out how to kill it. Who gets that job?

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