Frustrated and cold, Mexicans displaced by drug violence give up on US asylum claim

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El Paso activists fear for the lives of families who must return to towns disputed by drug cartels

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JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) — Hundreds of asylum seekers fleeing violence in the interior of Mexico are starting to abandon makeshift camps near three U.S. ports of entry, Juarez officials say.

Freezing overnight temperatures and growing frustration over long waits to get an initial interview with U.S. Customs and Border Protection in El Paso are to blame, Mexican officials and activists told Border Report.

The camps fashioned out of blue tarps and black plastic sheets sprung up in September south of the Paso del Norte and Zaragoza international bridges, as well as in a park near the Bridge of the Americas. The camps at one point held up to 3,000 people, mostly families, but as of Monday, only about 600 remained, according to Juarez police.

Activists in El Paso who have been visiting the camps in Juarez said they are saddened but not surprised that many asylum seekers are giving up.

“It was very obvious that this Administration did not intend to help these asylum seekers or even take their petitions,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights.

He said U.S. authorities have limited how many asylum seekers they see every day and have denied a high number of petitions. A recent lawsuit by the Southern Poverty Law Center points out the El Paso sector as having the highest asylum denial rate (96.6%) in the United States.

“The Administration implemented a strategy of attrition to demoralize people so they would become impatient and give up on their asylum goals. The strategy is to make the asylum process too slow and too hard. I think we’re seeing the results and it is very unfortunate,” he said.

Another El Paso organization, Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, last week filed a brief in support of lawsuits against two U.S. Customs and Border Protection pilot programs — Prompt Asylum Claim Review (PACR) and Humanitarian Asylum Review Process (HARP) — saying they’re an obstacle to adequately preparing the asylum claim, given time constraints.

The Department of Homeland Security did not have a comment on the lawsuits.

Garcia said Border Network for Human Rights spoke to many Mexican families at the camps. “They were really, really afraid to go back to their towns in Michoacan, Guerrero and Veracruz. They are fleeing violence and are afraid of being killed,” Garcia said. “Now we should be worried that some of them may be in danger, and that the United States failed to protect them.”

Half of the Mexican asylum seekers are children

Juarez researchers in November and early December conducted a survey of Mexican asylum seekers staying in Juarez. They found that 48% of those in the tent camps were children. They also established that 72% fled their towns because they’re afraid of drug traffickers and street crime. Only 17% alleged political persecution or reported being the target of threats, extortion or violence.

Most of the migrants (60%) are from the Western state of Michoacan, have been in the city for more than two weeks and aren’t familiar with the U.S. asylum process, the study found. And almost four in 10 (38.5%) don’t know what to do if their asylum claim is turned down.

“It’s important to note that most of these migrants are minors and are coming here in family units. … It’s also important to note that these are not economic migrants; they’re being displaced by internal forces; their two principal reasons for leaving are the presence of organized crime and violence, particularly robbery and extortion,” said Maria Inez Barrios, one of the authors of the study.

Border Report has documented the drug cartel dynamics in West-Central Mexico, where organized crime is disputing opium-growing territories in Guerrero state and the Cartel Jalisco New Generation is battling other groups in Michoacán and vying for highway routes to South Texas in Zacatecas and Guanajuato.

Juarez freelance journalist Roberto Delgado contributed to this report.

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