Mexico City – When a gang threatened to kill Rocio, her husband and their two small children, they fled their native Honduras, hoping for asylum in the United States.
Now they are stuck in Mexico, too scared to risk being deported from the United States under President Donald Trump’s crackdown on migrants.
The family fled to Mexico last June and was anxious to move on, fearing the Honduran gang would track them down.
“We changed our minds because of that president, the way he is deporting people,” she said of Trump, who has vowed stepped up deportation procedures against undocumented immigrants.
Now the 25-year-old woman and her family live in a charity shelter in Mexico. She asked to be identified just as Rocio, without her last name, for fear of reprisals.
She has applied three times for refugee status, which would protect her from deportation and allow her access to health care and education.
But the courts have so far denied it to her family for lack of evidence.
Deadly gang violence in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala is driving hundreds of thousands of desperate migrants to flee north. Officials say nearly 9 000 people applied for refugee status in Mexico last year and the figure may double this year.
“The radicalisation of certain measures by the new US government makes us expect the number of applications will increase,” Mexico’s deputy migration minister Humberto Roque Villanueva told AFP.
Carlos, a 43-year-old farmer from El Salvador, also risks deportation after failing to get refugee status.
He lives in an overcrowded shelter in Mexico City where airplanes flying nearby make a deafening noise.
“We would all prefer to go to the United States, but now everyone is staying here” in Mexico, says Carlos, 43.
“Trump says he is not going to deport everyone, just the bad people, but that’s not certain. If they grab one person in a place, they’ll grab everyone there.”
Carlos would much rather be back home on his peaceful farm growing sesame and corn, but it is too dangerous.
After members of one gang ordered him to feed them, he became a reluctant enemy of their rivals, the notoriously violent Salvatrucha gang.
“I was greatly afraid all the time,” he said. “Mexico may be dangerous, but at least here you can go out for a walk and make friends.”
Refugee applications increasing
Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto last year promised to speed up the refugee applications process.
But immigration authorities still only have about 50 staffers assigned to handling all the cases. Of those, 29 are paid by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Mexican officials “don’t give residency papers to people who really need them; but they do give them to people who chose to leave home and come here,” Rocio complained, clenching her fists.
Authorities say more than 400 000 people cross into Mexico via its southern border each year.
“Applications keep increasing,” says senior UNHCR official Jose Francisco Sieber.
“Innovative solutions are needed to allow applications to be processed fairly.”