Migrants from Central American countries are increasingly choosing to resettle in Mexico as the Trump administration’s tough immigration enforcement policies make the U.S. a less accessible destination.
For years, Mexico has largely been a waypoint for people from the so-called Northern Triangle countries — Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — who were trying to cross into the U.S. and petition for asylum. As the U.S. has cracked down on illegal immigration at the border and tightened its rules on accepting asylum claims, those migrants are now staying put in Mexico.
As a result, Mexico’s refugee applications have risen dramatically over the last three years, reports the Associated Press. It received 3,424 applications for refugee status in 2015, and the number more than doubled to 8,794 the next year. Mexico is on track to receive even more refugee applications in 2017 — there were 5,464 applications from just January to May.
Migration experts say word of tougher immigration and asylum policies in the U.S. has made its way back to Central America, causing migrants to choose Mexico or other neighboring countries instead. Maureen Meyer, a senior associate for Mexico at the Washington Office on Latin America, says potential immigrants now realize that Mexico is a safer bet for asylum claims.
“If you look at Mexico’s definition of who can qualify for asylum, it’s much broader than the United States,” Meyer told the AP. “If you are fleeing widespread violence in your country, you may be able to qualify for asylum in Mexico, whereas in the U.S. you have to prove that you belong to very specific groups of people.”
Mexico granted refugee status to about one of every three applicants from the Northern Triangle in 2016, reports the AP. The U.S., on the other hand, denies about 80 percent of asylum claims by people from those countries, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.
Under the Obama administration, migration from the Northern Triangle to the U.S. reached unprecedented levels. In 2013, as many as 2.7 million people born in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras were living in the United States, according to a report from the Council on Foreign Relations. That was up from an estimated 1.5 million people in 2000.
Between October 2013 and July 2015, more 100,000 unaccompanied minors from the Northern Triangle arrived in the U.S. and were given expedited resettlement under an emergency Obama order to deal with the surge.
The Trump administration has taken a much less permissive stance, pressuring Mexico to accept more Central American immigrants while publicly discouraging people from making the trek northward.
“We have asked them [Northern Triangle countries] to ask their citizens to not waste the money and head north, do not get on that terribly dangerous network,” Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly told the Senate in June. “Stay where they are, because if they come here, this is no longer an illegal-alien-friendly environment.”