Published On: Sat, Aug 12th, 2017

Why migrants are staying in Mexico

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Today the Economist explains why migrants are staying in México.

America cracks down on undocumented migrants, Mexico sees an uptick in asylum applications instead.

For years migrants have left Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras—Central America’s so-called “Northern Triangle”—to pursue their dreams in the United States. Having fled civil wars between the 1970s and 1990s, they now flee poverty and gang-related violence. Over 3m Central Americans are reckoned to live in America. But this year the flow of migrants out of the Northern Triangle and into the United States has slowed. Some have postponed or even cancelled their odysseys. Others are staying put in Mexico. Why?

In the 1970s the Mexican government, worried about jobs, education and health care, introduced laws that restricted entrance to “useful” migrants. Between 1974 and 2008 it was a criminal offence to enter or stay in Mexico without authorisation. The country is more open now, but Central Americans have tended to ignore its potential as a place to make a new home, and headed farther north. In October 2016 more than 66,000 migrants were apprehended at America’s southern border, around half of them Central American. By April that figure had dropped to 16,000.

At the same time the number of undocumented migrants caught by Mexico’s immigration police was also dropping. Meanwhile, the number of asylum-seekers in Mexico rose from 9,000 in 2016 to 7,000 in the first half of 2017 alone. Under Mexican law asylum is granted to those persecuted on the grounds of race, religion, nationality, gender, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion. The definition of social group can be quite flexible, so being part of a family that has been threatened by a gang could be the basis for a claim. Last year 63% of applicants were granted asylum, up from 40% in 2014.

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