Mexico Ill-Equipped To Handle Asylum Seekers Barred From Entering The U.S.

Sep 13, 2019
Originally published on September 13, 2019 6:39 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

This week's ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court upholding President Trump's asylum ban puts Mexico in a difficult position. The ruling essentially bars migrants from asking for asylum at the U.S. southern border unless they have already asked and been denied protection in a country they passed through to get to the U.S. That means Mexico may see a staggering increase in the number of asylum claims, a difficult situation given how many migrants are already straining that country's asylum system. Well, for more on how Mexico is coping, we turn to NPR's Carrie Kahn. She's in Mexico City. Hey, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi.

KELLY: So what has been the official reaction from Mexico to the Supreme Court ruling?

KAHN: So far pretty tepid, but that's not unusual. This government here has gone to great lengths not to anger President Trump. Migrant rights advocates, however, have been outraged, saying an already strained refugee situation here's just going to get worse. But Mexico's president doesn't want to upset Trump at all, and he has gone to great lengths to do a lot to stop the flow of migrants coming to the U.S. border. The one thing - the only thing Mexico has held its ground on was not signing on to be a so-called safe third country. And, in essence, that's exactly what this ruling will do.

KELLY: Why is that the one thing that the Mexican government was not prepared to do in all that you just described that it has done to accommodate President Trump?

KAHN: I think, in essence, it's just because of what might happen if this ruling stands - court challenges, that Mexico will see a huge increase in asylum-seekers. And it's just something they aren't prepared to do. Look. Detention facilities in the southern border are overcrowded. They're dirty. They're ill-equipped for such large numbers now. And shelters are the same, they're at overcapacity at the southern and the northern Mexican borders.

KELLY: So describe the system that is in place. I mean, Mexico must have some resources in place to handle the existing flow of asylum-seekers.

KAHN: Yes, it has a Refugee Assistance Commission. It's called COMAR. And Mexico has a long history of accepting refugees. It was one of the biggest countries to take in Jews during the Holocaust. It took in the Spanish during their civil war, Guatemalan refugees during that country's long civil war. So it has always dealt with refugees. But the agency is overwhelmed. The numbers now coming into Mexico are huge.

For the first eight months this year, nearly 50,000 migrants have received refugee status or protection. That's almost a 70% increase over the same time last year. And Mexico's acceptance rate is pretty high too in some categories. You know, to get refugee protection asylum in Mexico, the bar is a lot lower than it is in the U.S. But Venezuelans are almost - get - 100% of the time they receive asylum, Guatemalans not so much.

KELLY: Talk about what this might mean for the people most directly affected, Carrie, the migrants themselves, if they are going to have to stay in Mexico and apply there. Are their jobs? You - and you just - where do they stay? You described shelters that are already overflowing.

KAHN: Yeah, it doesn't look good for the migrants here. I've asked the government about backlog numbers, and they haven't given those yet. But there are thousands of migrants in Mexico's southern states that are still waiting to apply. So we can see what's already happening. For example, there's a lot of Africans - thousands of them - in the southern border city here who have been waiting for more than a month to resolve their case. And they just live in abhorrent conditions.

And Mexico is deporting and detaining record numbers of migrants, more than they have ever done before. Advocates say those deportations and detentions are done with little regard to migrants' due process. And many longtime watchers of migration trends just say these new restrictions on asylums and the harsh crackdowns is just going to push more people into the hands of dangerous smugglers and into more dangerous situations at the border to cross illegally into the U.S. And they say more migrants will undoubtably die.

KELLY: Thank you, Carrie.

KAHN: You're welcome.

KELLY: That's NPR's Carrie Kahn in Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.