Policies Trump started and Biden has continued are allowing corrupt officials and cartels to cash in on migrants

·5 min read
Migrants cross Rio Bravo from Mexico to US
Migrants cross the Rio Bravo in Ciudad Juarez to surrender to US authorities in El Paso and seek political asylum in the US, May 13, 2021.David Peinado/NurPhoto via Getty Images
  • A year into office, the Biden administration is maintaining Trump-era policies to keep migrants out of the US.

  • The current administration continues to expel migrants under the "Remain in Mexico" policy and Title 42.

  • Human smugglers and Mexican officials are profiting from many of these expulsions, migrants and smugglers say.

Ciudad Juarez, MEXICO — Migrants, human-rights organizations, and human smugglers in Mexico say officials with Mexico's top immigration authority are profiting off of migrants trying to get across the country and into the US.

The US's relaunch the controversial "Remain in Mexico" program, officially called Migrant Protection Protocols, or MPP, and continued use of a US health-code provision known as Title 42 to keep thousands of asylum seekers out of the US have made migrants vulnerable to yet another threat: officials who are supposed to watch over them.

Migrants in Mexico told Insider said while they want to stay away from smugglers and cartels by "doing things right," they have found that even Mexican authorities are working with smugglers.

"It is more risky today to go and ask for political asylum at the [Mexico-US border] bridges than to pay a smuggler and try to get across illegally," said Marcos, an Ecuadorian man making his second attempt to cross into the US illegally after being sent back under Title 42.

Migrants cross into Mexico on bridge
Migrants expelled from the US under the "Remain in Mexico" policy cross the Paso del Norte International Bridge, December 7, 2021.Christian Torres/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Marcos said he'd rather pay and risk his life trying to get into the US than ask for political asylum and be sent all the way back to Ecuador.

"I've heard there are a lot of deportations even if your are requesting political asylum, and I can not go back to Ecuador. I will die if they send me back," he said.

The Trump administration began using the "Remain in Mexico" policy and Title 42 to expel migrants, and the Biden administration has kept both policies in place.

The current administration has also kept deportations at almost the same level as its predecessor. In the first five months of the Biden administration, 64% of people encountered by the Border Patrol were expelled under Title 42, according to CBP statistics.

Human smugglers end up profiting from many of these expulsions, migrants and smugglers say.

Mexico National Guard at migrant shelter
A Mexican National Guard member guards the Terraza Fandango shelter in Ciudad Acuna, in Mexico's Coahuila state, September 25, 2021.PEDRO PARDO/AFP via Getty Images

A smuggler in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, speaking anonymously to avoid retaliation, told Insider that after the US sends migrants back to Mexico under Title 42 or MPP, some end up being turned over to his organization by officials from Mexico's National Institute of Migration, or INM.

INM "gives us back our own migrants. When they escape our safe houses or if they are caught when trying to get across or if they are returned by US immigration, they contact us and deliver them back to us" but "not before taking his 2,000 pesos [$100] for each migrant they return to us," the smuggler said.

A Cuban migrant at a shelter in Ciudad Juarez described how the agency handed him and several others over to his smuggler "for a second try."

"We tried to get across by a mountain between Ciudad Juarez and El Paso with a smuggler that we paid $1,500 each and were caught by the Border Patrol," he said.

Border patrol agent takes migrants into custody
Haitian and Brazilian migrants are taken into custody by a US Border Patrol agent at the border in Yuma, Arizona, December 7, 2021.John Moore/Getty Images

After their nighttime capture, they were expelled to Ciudad Juarez and handed over to Mexican immigration officers, he said. "They put us in a van and asked us to get 1,000 pesos to give us back to our smuggler to try again."

The migrant said that early on the following day they were handed over to the smuggler in a parking lot.

"I know it is corruption going on there, but I'm glad they gave us back to the smuggler to try again and did not deport us all the way back to Cuba," he said.

Insider contacted INM for a statement, but no one from the agency was available to discuss the matter.

Some 250,000 migrants have been detained in Mexico this year, most of them at the southern border, according to official figures. In 2020 Mexico reported detaining only 82,000 migrants.

The increase reflects how Mexican authorities have ramped up detentions of migrants under President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Haitian migrant caravan in Chiapas Mexico
A caravan of migrants, mostly Haitians, walks through the Mexican state of Chiapas on their way to the US, November 20, 2021.Jacob Garcia/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

To support the enforcement effort, Mexico recently deployed almost 30,000 National Guard troops to its northern and southern borders. That deployment alone exceeds the roughly 20,000 agents that the Border Patrol has to patrol the US's borders.

Luis García Villagrán, an immigration activist in the southern border state of Chiapas who has organized migrant caravans, called the INM "the biggest human trafficking cartel in Mexico."

"The institute is charging migrants for everything, from giving them documents to travel freely inside Mexico to a place inside a bus from Chiapas to the US border," Villagrán told Insider.

Villagrán described corruption in the agency as a consequence of the poor labor conditions most of its employees face.

"They earn less than 14,000 pesos [$700] a month and work overnight shifts and 10 hours a day under bad weather conditions. In many cases this is why they are robbing and extorting migrants," he said.

"Mexico is under a huge immigration crisis, and the corruption inside INM and the fact that many of its employees are working hand-to-hand with smugglers is only making it worse," Villagrán added.

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