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Border Report: One More Way the Pandemic Is Hurting Asylum-Seekers

Graciela Zamudio, executive director of Alma Migrante, works in her office in Tijuana. / Photo by Maya Srikrishnan

The coronavirus has impacted migrants in Tijuana in many ways. Most shelters in the city have closed their doors to new people to protect those staying there from the virus, creating a bed shortage. The pandemic has also made it difficult economically, so migrants — like everyone else — have struggled to find work to pay for rent and food.

But migrants are also facing other challenges when it comes to their legal ability to remain in Mexico, said Graciela Zamudio, executive director of Alma Migrante, an organization that provides legal assistance to migrants in Tijuana.

So far in 2020, 868 migrants have been arrested and deported [1] from Baja California, El Sol de Tijuana reports. Of those, 177 are Honduran, 120 are Haitian and 107 are Guatemalan.

Zamudio said the Mexican government has stopped renewing temporary humanitarian visas that were given to asylum-seekers when they entered the country. Her organization is currently looking at potentially challenging more than a dozen such cases in court.

When asylum-seekers arrive in Mexico, they typically receive a regulatory card that grants them permission to be there for a year. If they need another one-year extension after that, they must apply within 30 days of it expiring. But as people apply for extensions, Zamudio said, the Mexican government has issued orders to leave the country within 40 days.

“They are leaving people without protection in the middle of the pandemic,” Zamudio said.

She’s been trying to work with immigration officials to resolve the issue, she said.

“We are trying to write them a proposal to extend the cards without migrants having to do anything — the same way they did when the caravans arrived,” Zamudio said.

She said that she is trying to ensure that the Mexican government also won’t extend visas solely on the basis of the pandemic because she is concerned that when the pandemic ends, migrants may be left without legal permission to be in Mexico and have to go through the process all over again. Many of the U.S. immigration and border policies that have forced asylum-seekers to wait months and months in Mexico have nothing to do with the pandemic.

“The fact that these people came in the caravan and still haven’t found proper inclusion in society says it all,” Zamudio said. “The pandemic is an important issue, but it’s not the only one. We need to use it as something that makes the situation more grave, rather than the only reason to give them protection.”

If her organization can’t resolve the issue with officials, Alma Migrante may have to turn to litigation, as it’s done in other matters.

In the spring, Alma Migrante and other groups sued to improve safety in migrant detention facilities in Baja California. In April, a Baja California judge said the government needed to adopt specific measures to safeguard the health and safety of migrants [2], which it has since done [3].

But Zamudio said orders in different parts of the country went different ways. An order in Mexico City, for instance, was even more forceful, while some of the decisions in southern states sided with the government. Courts have also had trouble enforcing the orders and continuing to receive information from the government about migrants in its custody, she said.

In Other Asylum News

Hospital General Is Drowning

Doctors and nurses at Tijuana’s Hospital General pleaded for help [6] in an open letter published on Facebook, saying they lack medication and equipment to treat patients, reports Cadena Noticias.

The hospital has an occupancy of over 90 percent and has had more than 80 deaths in three weeks [7], Zeta reports. Family members also told Zeta they’ve paid up to 20,000 pesos for COVID-19 treatment and, even then, the lives of their loved ones couldn’t be saved [8].

Border Agent Controversies

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