In Chiapas, the immigrant wave experiences a Calvary

At the Frontera Hidalgo immigration station, in Chiapas, Central Americans wait to receive a permit to be able to cross Mexican territory without problems in their zeal to enter the Unites States. Photo: Alfredo Domínguez

By: Hermann Bellinghausen

Tapachula, Chiapas

The southern border is a test. It all started last October, when the avalanche of immigrants from Central America towards the north adopted new and more challenging ways of taking the trip to face the ultimate Goliath at our other border. The rapid transformation of this human flow through Mexico has exceeded the [capacity of] civilian organizations that try to support them at the national entry gates. This is the case of the Fray Matias de Cordova Human Rights Center or the Catholic Church’s different migrant houses. It has also put government institutions against the wall, like the National Immigration Institute (Instituto Nacional de Migración, INM) and the Mexican Commission for Aid to Refugees, which are, if possible, even more backlogged.

On the Mexican side of the border the bridge between Ciudad Hidalgo and the Guatemalan Tecún Umán yesterday morning, some 900 people were camped out waiting for some kind of legalization. Although they come from a hot land (most are Hondurans and Salvadorans), the sun is crushing and they all seek the cover of some shade. Entire families, including grandparents, cousins or neighbors form extended families (“travel families”). One such family, which cracks jokes and poses happy and smiling for the camera tells us that they are dedicated “to waiting.” Between anxious displacement and long waits, weeks and months pass. The procedures are so slow and so dispersed throughout Chiapas that they aggravate the Calvary especially for those who request refuge, like the family mentioned, coming from northern Honduras. The children grow, the young women mature, and the pregnant women, well they also mature.

The group’s leader insists on making it clear that they do not intend to stay in Mexico, their goal is to reach the United States. But as the wait can be long, “we would be willing to work for any pay,” he says, surrounded by all his offspring. He points to his seven-year old son: “If we continued in Honduras, he would already be selling drugs and I would be dead.”

In the center of Tapachula, the offices of Fray Matias de Cordova offer a complex panorama. In the street, one hundred people wait to be received; inside, on the wide patio of the human rights organization, it must be double that. The Center’s young director, Brenda Ochoa, comments: “Every day we’re able to attend to some one hundred cases.” The Center offers a legal guide to the asylum procedures, or possibly health care for these tired, malnourished and anguished people. “Desperate,” a woman on the Suchiate River will add later. Besides Central Americans, there is a constant and growing number of Haitians and Congolese not easily distinguishable, which allows the former to pass themselves off as Africans, because they don’t receive the same treatment, but rather worse.

The Mexican population of this border region and the cities on the route to the north along the Chiapas coast are on trial. In Huixtla, the Morena mayor ordered not to receive them or permit them to occupy any space. Between Mapastepec and Pijijiapan just last weekend the INM arrested one hundred lost sheep from the new caravan that is making its way north, and that seemed to have dispersed last night on the outskirts of Tonalá.

Historically, mestizo society in Chiapas has not been characterized by its racial tolerance, but it received the first caravans with solidarity. In just a few months, this opening has deteriorated. In Tapachula, Mapastepec, Tonalá and Acapetahua, they are now feared and rejected. Brenda Ochoa doesn’t hesitate in attribute part of the responsibility for this deterioration to the authorities, because by criminalizing migrants they incite rejection in a local population with xenophobic tendencies. The Fray Matias de Cordova Center, which participates in the Collective for Observation and Monitoring of Human Rights in the Mexican Southeast, reiterates to La Jornada its concerns given the “immigration crisis” that directly impacts this end of the country:

“The lack of comprehensive protection of their rights, the uncertainty and the absence of answers continue.” That edges the people in refugee camps to renew their march “with all the risks and no protection.”

That in these moments there are more than 5,000 immigrants in the region is an estimation that Brenda Ochoa shares with Aline Juárez Nieto, the INM spokesperson who attends to the reporters at the Ciudad Hidalgo immigration station. But there is no official data. According to the Fray Matias, “mass detentions at different points between Ciudad Hidalgo, Tapachula, Huixtla and Mapastepec increase peoples’ fear and reveal the lack of clarity in the immigration policy of the State.” In effect, the police and immigration control posts follow one another along the highway to Arriaga. The Center insists on demanding “structural reorientation of immigration and refugee policy” from the government, given the new crisis that can be expected.


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee




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