Migrants seeking asylum are being stopped at the southern border and forced to stay in Mexico until they pay money to Mexican officials, the Los Angeles Times has reported.
Asylum seekers are being funneled to border bridge crossings and are being blocked from approaching the U.S. side, the Times said. These poor migrants, who have traveled long distances to get to the border, are being forced onto waiting lists that are overseen by Mexican authorities.
Immigrant-rights advocates say that this is a very dangerous situation for the asylum seekers. They are now at risk of extortion, discrimination and deportation. They say that Mexican officials demand money to let them pass and if they don’t have money, they have to stay in Mexico.
In Matamoros, Mexico, the list is kept on a clipboard on one of two border bridges. Mexican officers maintain the list but U.S. officials tell them how many asylum seekers can cross the bridge each day.
The Times said that an anonymous individual familiar with the Mexican immigration system reported that U.S. officials choose which migrants cross into the U.S. based on their nationality and “other characteristics.”
The asylum seekers have been camping at the foot of the bridge for weeks, waiting for their turn to cross. Those who can’t pay money are at the top of the waiting list but watch others (who pay the bribes) jump ahead of them.
Under U.S. law immigrants seeking asylum may present themselves at border crossings or inside the country.
But last week President Trump announced he would not follow U.S. law. He said he was implementing a new policy so that those crossing illegally into the U.S. would be denied asylum. A federal judge in San Francisco blocked Trump’s policy, however, because it was not in compliance with the asylum laws.
One thing the judge’s ruling did not address, however, was stopping asylum seekers at the border bridges before they enter the United States. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials say they have no more space to process asylum seekers at border holding areas. As a result they are now placing their officers on the bridges to stop the migrants from entering the U.S. This policy requires that the migrants add their names to the waiting lists maintained by Mexican border guards in Mexico.
Immigrant advocates have sued in federal court to change this system, arguing that the waiting list process illegally blocks people from entering the U.S. to seek asylum. As the lawsuit is pending, U.S. immigration officials have expanded the waiting list system to all busy border crossings in Arizona, California and Texas.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it “processes undocumented persons as expeditiously as possible,” and denied it was involved in selecting who enters from the lists.
“Nationality has absolutely no bearing on the processing” of asylum seekers, and those on the lists are “processed on a first-come, first-serve basis,” the agency said.
The agency said it “does take into consideration persons with medical emergencies, unaccompanied alien children, the disabled, and gives priority as we can, bearing in mind the day-to-day availability of resources, case complexity, holding space, port volume and enforcement actions.”
But Jessica Zamora, an 18-year-old Cuban who is seven months pregnant, has been waiting at the foot of the Matamoros bridge for several weeks with two other pregnant women.
“We wait here while others pass because we don’t have money,” Zamora said.