Central Americans Turn to Mexico for Asylum

By Kausha Luna, March 10, 2017

As the Trump administration tightens immigration enforcement, Central Americans are increasingly opting to apply for refugee status in Mexico.

A Spanish language article highlights the experiences of a Salvadoran man and Honduran woman who travelled to Mexico with the intention to cross the border into the United States. In their narratives, the Central Americans explained that after President Trump's election they, like many others, chose to instead stay in Mexico and apply for refugee status. Both of their cases are among those that were rejected, due to the inability to prove that they meet the criteria for refugee status.

Mexico's Undersecretary of Migration Roque Villanueva echoed the migrants' remarks, "The radicalization of some measures with the new U.S. government makes us think that the number of applications will increase."

Mexico's Law on Refugees, Complementary Protection, and Political Asylum gives all foreigners in the national territory the right to solicit refugee status, despite illegal entry. (In U.S. law, when a foreigner who is already present applies for refugee status, that is called asylum, the "refugee" label being reserved for those processed overseas and then brought here.) Additionally, those who do not qualify for refugee status may then request complementary protection, which grants permanent resident status. Any immigration proceedings initiated due to illegal entry are suspended for those seeking refugee status or complementary protection, and remain suspended until a decision is made about the requested status.

According to the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance (COMAR) there was a 154.6 percent increase in the number of applications received between 2015 (3,423) and 2016 (8,781). A majority of asylum applications, 91.6 percent, come from the Northern Triangle countries (Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala). In 2017, the number of applications is expected to more than double.

Undersecretary Villanueva has assured that the selection process, which takes up to three months, will be relaxed, but did not specify how. COMAR statistics show that in 2015, of those who completed the application process (2,393), 46 percent were granted refugee status (940) or complementary protection (153). The approval rate increased to 63 percent in 2016. From the 4,825 people who completed the application process, 2,563 were recognized as refugees and 493 received complementary protection.

During the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants last September, Mexico's President Enrique Peña Nieto made a commitment to ease procedures for asylum eligibility. He also called on the international community to stand in solidarity with refugees and seek their integration into the receiving communities. Consequently, Mexico outlined seven concrete actions to provide a more dignified and humane treatment of migrants and refugees. Mexico is also a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol.

The trends described above, in conjunction to Mexico's international commitments, point to a system that is ready and willing to provide the appropriate international protections to those who need them, among the more than 400,000 people that cross Mexico's southern border every year. Therefore, those choosing not to avail themselves of these protections, and to continue north to sneak across the U.S. border instead, are not really asylum-seekers at all, but illegal immigrants coming to find jobs or join relatives.