This month, I visited shelters in Mexico City and Tapachula, Chiapas, the Mexican state that borders Guatemala. The visit was part of an Alianza Americas travel program organized to make the realities of asylum seekers more real for journalists and activists. I assumed my work with the New York Immigration Coalition would prepare me for the suffering I would see. I was wrong.
Local humanitarian and faith-based organizations do not have the capacity to meet the challenge of the thousands of people who are turned away from our southern border daily. In Mexico City, thousands of migrants, hailing from across Central America, were living in shelters designed to house hundreds. Despite the cramped quarters, many preferred the shelters to the border, where asylum seekers are often kidnapped, raped, or become the prey of local gangs.
To try to meet the demand, shelter workers are transforming any available room, including classrooms, to house the migrants. As of now, the shelters can feed and house these individuals, but the workers have difficulty determining who is and is not dangerous. I often saw migrants arbitrarily denied entry by security guards at these shelters.
In Tapachula, which is now referred to as “Trap-a-Chula” or a prison city, many of the migrants were of Haitian and African descent. Most of these black migrants successfully reached the U.S. border, only to be turned around, and sent 2,000-plus miles south. Because they lack legal status in Mexico, the government doesn’t allow them to travel to court at the U.S. southern border even if they have paperwork indicating that they presented themselves to border officials. Thus, black immigrants are caught in limbo, surrounded by a population largely hostile towards them, forced into an inadequate shelter system by two governments that would rather forget they exist than grapple with their plight.
At one shelter in Tapachula, which has historically been a recovery institution for migrants who have fallen off of a regional train trying to head north, a third of the migrants were African, and of those I witnessed, many were children under the age of five.
Aside from Central Americans or Mexicans, Caribbeans are the biggest population of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. In 2016, up to 700 African and Haitian migrants were arriving in Tapachula a day. Today, due to the Trump administration’s policies, these individuals are effectively trapped.
Throughout my conversations with these migrants, it was clear that they were following U.S. politics as closely as the biggest American news junkie. Despite this, they remained extraordinarily hopeful for their and America’s future.
How did this happen? The answer is simple: This White House has managed to erect the long-promised wall, albeit one that is a nation, Mexico, rather than one made of brick and mortar. Trump accomplished this through his “Remain in Mexico” policy, the sham “safe third country agreements” and a systematic redefining of asylum itself. The brutal results were evident in every shelter I visited where I saw thousands of people desperately fleeing violence trapped in a bureaucratic limbo — stripped of their legal rights and denied their humanity.[More Opinion] Make the road: The way forward for e-bikes, e-scooters and their riders »
In today’s bloated and dizzying media and political landscape, it is easy for the consequences of American policy, most acutely visible in Mexico and Guatemala, to go unnoticed. Many New Yorkers view the horrors in Mexico as too remote to impact anyone here. However, as the city and state perhaps most molded by the immigrant experience, we have a special duty to welcome anyone fleeing poverty, hunger and war. New Yorkers must stand up and call out the humanitarian crisis on the U.S. southern border. Our history demands it.
As a son and father, I cannot fathom the strength necessary to leave my home to survive. I was left shaken to my core. I wish no one would have to experience what Central Americans, Africans and Haitians are facing right now.
By MURAD AWAWDEHNEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Awawdeh is the executive vice president of advocacy and strategy at the New York Immigration Coalition.
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