SAN PEDRO TAPANATEPEQ, Mexico, Nov 17 (Reuters) – Thousands of migrants are in southern Mexico after U.S. and Mexican authorities implemented new policies aimed at stemming the illegal flow of Venezuelans into the United States. Camping in squalid conditions in remote towns.
The camp, located on a muddy sports field in San Pedro Tapanatepec, Oaxaca, is the largest in recent Mexican history, according to advocates. Some 12,000 people, mainly from Venezuela, sleep on wooden boxes under white tents, on sidewalks or in residents’ homes and backyards.
The surge in immigration in the small town has overwhelmed its infrastructure and fueled tensions with local authorities, which say they bear the brunt of shifts in U.S. and Mexican immigration policies.
On Tuesday night, municipalities encouraged migrants to form caravans and head north after a U.S. judge ruled that the pandemic-era order known as Title 42, used to deport hundreds of thousands of migrants to Mexico, was illegal.
Authorities said they had threatened to organize caravans to clear the camp unless the federal government removed it as quickly as possible.
Any further large influx of migrants across the U.S.-Mexico border would put pressure on President Joe Biden’s administration, which is already facing criticism from within the party as well as from immigration advocates and Republican lawmakers for its immigration policies.
“The camp was the worst thing ever because there was disease and filth,” said Jose Maria Lopez, who left his hometown in northwestern Venezuela in September after authorities opened fire at the U.S. border He entered the camp a second time after being detained nearby. “It’s not habitable,” he added.
At night, the tent echoes with coughing, crying children and the buzzing of mosquitoes.
During the day, migrants scrambled in the sweltering heat to join the list to find out when Mexico’s National Institute for Migration (INM) would provide them with temporary immigration papers to travel within the country. Several migrants told Reuters they had been waiting for more than a month.
The rise in the camps underscores Mexico’s efforts to cooperate with the U.S. goal of keeping migrants from crossing its border.
U.S. immigration authorities have been deporting Venezuelans illegally crossing the border back to Mexico under Section 42 under a joint plan announced Oct. 12 aimed at quelling a record influx of Venezuelan migrants.
INM also implemented new procedures in southern Mexico.
It set up pop-up immigration offices in San Pedro Tapanatepec in August to process immigration papers, and immigrants soon began camping in and around the facilities.
In early October, authorities stamped a stamp saying the documents were only valid in the state of Oaxaca. That has led to migrants repeatedly returning to the camps as immigration authorities detain them in other states and send them back to cities near Guatemala’s southern border.
A Mexican official said the new process was one of several aimed at helping Mexico contain the large number of Venezuelans currently stranded in Mexico because of the new U.S. policy.
It is unclear how the ruling on Article 42, which is expected to come into effect in mid-December, will affect how the INM handles the camps. INM did not answer questions about the size of the camps, the motivations and conditions behind the new procedures.
In a makeshift clinic made of white tarps and wooden benches, conditions resembled a refugee camp in a war zone, said Helmer Charris of Doctors Without Borders.
“The number of people trapped here in the past month … far exceeds what we’ve seen in recent years,” Charis said, adding that dehydration, respiratory infections and diarrhea abound.
But many Venezuelans in the camp remain undeterred by the dream of heading north. Some who are looking for a way back to Venezuela are now planning to head to the U.S. border after the Title 42 ruling.
Doctors Without Borders is preparing for another swell of migrant populations in the camps.
On a morning shortly before the ruling, some had swollen and bleeding feet as dozens of Venezuelan migrants walked in the scorching sun along a busy one-lane highway 50 kilometers northwest of San Pedro Tapanatepec. They had left camp the day before, fed up with waiting.
Jose Alberto Arteaga carried his 5-year-old daughter on his shoulders as his wife trekked with their 8-month-old daughter in their arms.
“We go forward with faith in God that we will be able to reach America,” Arteaga said.
Reporting by Jackie Botts and Jose Cortes in San Pedro Tapanatepec; Additional reporting by Daina Beth Solomon, Dave Graham and Lizbeth Diaz in Mexico City, Kristina Cooke in San Francisco, Matt Spetalnick and Ted Hesson in Washington; Stephen Eisenhammer ) and edited by Lincoln Feast.
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