MEXICO CITY (AP) — As migrants, particularly Venezuelans, struggle to come to terms with a new U.S. policy that discourages border crossings, a small town in southern Mexico is unexpectedly hosting thousands of migrants camped far from the U.S. border.
San Pedro Tapanatepec had 7,000 migrants, about 75% Venezuelan, when The Associated Press visited in early October. By Monday, Mayor Humberto Parrazales estimated the number had risen to 14,000. The AP could not independently verify that figure.
Although many Venezuelans planned to make their way to the U.S. border, the new U.S. policy says only those who apply online and arrive by plane will be admitted. Border guards will simply be expelled. As a result, many are camping in five large tent shelters and wondering what to do next.
They remove the heat of the day with just a few electric fans to lower the temperature.
San Pedro Tapanatepec is clearly not where they wanted to end up. The city occupied by heat in the state of Oaxaca is only about 300 kilometers from the border with Guatemala. Many migrants thought they had left Guatemala for good on the long journey that took many of them from the Darian Gap in Panama, through Central America, to Mexico.
Since August, the city has served as a stopover, where migrants wait several days while Mexican immigration authorities issue them a type of transit pass that gives them time to reach the U.S. border.
But Parrazales said the flow of that paperwork has slowed, leaving many more migrants waiting here in a poor city that was not equipped to host so many people.
“I don’t understand anything,” Venezuelan migrant Robinson Rodriguez said by phone from Tapanatepec. “If everything at the border is closed, then they shouldn’t be handing out these (transit) passes. And if you ask (the authorities), they say they don’t know, but they still distribute them.”
Time is not on the side of migrants. Rodríguez was actually given a seven-day transit document, which basically required him to leave Mexico in a week. But he had to spend time raising money to pay for transportation to the northern border, and by the time he got it, his pass had expired.
Confusion reigns. Nicaraguan migrant Luis Martinica showed a flyer that contained a web link where Venezuelans could sign up, but it was confusing; if he, as a Nicaraguan, showed up at the US border, would he be deported too?
Mayor Parrazales has his own concerns. The town’s transformers can no longer handle the electricity needed for the camp, and there was a partial power outage. Health care, sanitation and water are also a problem.
Still, migrants have to pay for most things, and Parrazales admits the city has seen about $15 million in additional business selling migrants food, places to sleep, medicine, taxis and bus rides. “They have to pay to charge their cell phones,” he notes.
Mexico has issued about 77,000 transit passes to Venezuelans so far this year, most of them in the past three months. Like Nicaraguans and Cubans, Venezuelans are difficult to deport, both for Mexico and the United States.
Mexico’s National Institute of Immigration did not respond to AP requests about how the camp will be managed after the new U.S. program. Faced with a lack of official information, rumors and tensions rise.
Martinica, a Nicaraguan immigrant, said officials stopped issuing passes for a while “after an argument in which some Venezuelans insulted a police officer.”
“There is a huge lack of information,” Parrazales said. “This is the pressure cooker I’m trying to keep here.”