Violence Drives a Swell in Mexican Migration

A migrant encampment in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Nov. 2, 2019. Mexicans have been showing up in border cities in greater numbers, in many cases fleeing the country's escalating violence and ending up stuck in encampments, unable to apply for asylum due to restrictive measures implemented by the Trump administration. (Celia Talbot Tobin/The New York Times)

Kirk Semple

c.2019 The New York Times Company


CIUDAD JUÁREZ, Mexico — A crackdown on illegal immigration has sharply curbed the number of Central Americans and others trying to enter the United States. But Mexicans, who have not been bound by some of the same restrictions, have been showing up at the border in greater numbers, in many cases fleeing the escalating violence in their country.

Thousands have been stuck for weeks here in Ciudad Juárez and other border cities, waiting for permission to cross into the United States to apply for asylum. Human rights advocates say the bottleneck violates American and international law by forcing migrants to remain in a country where they feel their lives are at risk.

“We’re fearful here because you never know whether at any moment someone’s going to come and kill someone,” said Juan, 55, a farm laborer from the state of Zacatecas who fled with 10 members of his family after his son escaped a criminal group that was pressuring him to join their ranks.

“Wherever we are in Mexico, the gangs can find us,” said Juan, who like many asylum-seekers interviewed for this story, asked to be identified by his first name only out of fear for his safety.

The Trump administration has aggressively sought to reduce immigration — legal and illegal — by implementing more restrictive measures. Those measures include returning migrants from various countries to Mexico while their immigration cases play out in American courts.

The Trump administration has also pressured the Mexican government to get tougher on illegal migration, leading to the deployment of thousands of Mexican security forces to help detain undocumented migrants as they travel north.

Those strategies have led to a sharp drop in the number of migrants trying to cross into the United States, officials say.

But the policies have had little impact on Mexican migration because Mexicans cannot be prevented from traveling through their own country to the northern border. And Mexican asylum-seekers who have entered the United States, once they apply for protection, cannot be returned home unless their petitions are denied.

While the overall number of migrants arrested along the southwest border has plunged, the number of Mexicans apprehended has risen: About 17,000 Mexicans were caught crossing between ports of entry in October, a 34% increase since July, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.