TAPACHULA/MEXICO CITY — Thousands of migrants have flocked to government offices in southern Mexico seeking asylum since the United States said it would maintain restrictions used to quickly expel hundreds of thousands of migrants who have crossed the border. between the United States and Mexico.

Last month, the US Supreme Court said it would uphold a COVID-19-era measure to speed up removals of undocumented immigrants to Mexico until it had time to consider Republican arguments against its repeal, which the US President Joe Biden said he could extend the restrictions until as late as June.

Meanwhile, Biden administration officials told Reuters that the measure known as Title 42 could Soon it will be applied to more nationalities.including Cubans, Nicaraguans and Haitians, raising fears of expulsion and encouraging migrants to seek asylum to safeguard freedom of movement within Mexico, analysts and officials say.

Cuban migrant Germán Ortiz, who hopes to apply for asylum in the Mexican city of Tapachula near the Guatemalan border, wants to reach the United States quickly.

“Once the new law is applied, they will close the road to us,” said Ortiz, who arrived in Tapachula on December 31. «We don’t want to take any chances, we must get to the border now.»

Mexico currently only accepts certain nationalities expelled from the United States, but is expected to accept more under Title 42 soon, as Washington grapples with a record 2.2 million migrant apprehensions at the US southwest border in 2022.

Title 42 was originally put in place to slow the spread of COVID, but US health authorities have since said it is no longer necessary for public health reasons. Immigrant advocates say the policy is inhumane and exposes vulnerable immigrants to serious risks, such as kidnapping or assault, in Mexican border cities.

Andrés Ramírez, head of Mexico’s Commission for Aid to Refugees (COMAR), estimated that up to 5,000 migrants showed up at COMAR’s offices in Tapachula on January 2 and 3, among the largest groups the agency has seen in so long. Little time. Many of the migrants included Haitians and Nicaraguans.

Ramírez said that many migrants seek asylum to obtain the documents they believe are necessary to cross Mexico and then go to the US-Mexico border. Mexico has tried to stem the massive movement of migrants toward the US border by dismantling caravans and setting up checkpoints throughout the country.

Ramírez believed that the large number of new arrivals could be immigrants from Cuba, Nicaragua and Haiti seeking to reach the United States before the rules change.

“They are trying to run,” he said.

‘Give us a chance’

Police in Tapachula and the National Guard put up fences around the COMAR offices to block out large crowds of migrants, Reuters images show.

“I have been sleeping here since January 1, hoping that they will help me, that they will give me shelter,” said Mauricio Hilario, a 27-year-old Salvadoran migrant who is camping in front of the COMAR building with dozens of people, including small children.

Almost 400,000 migrants were detained in Mexico through November, double the number in 2019, according to official data.

Migration is expected to be high on the agenda when US President Joe Biden meets his Mexican and Canadian counterparts for a leaders’ summit next week in Mexico City.

Lorena Mena, director of Continente Móvil, a think tank specializing in immigration issues, said that any expansion of Title 42 would likely increase risky migration because traffickers will encourage expelled migrants to continue crossing the border since they have not been deported. officially.

“The fact that people cross borders does not take away their rights, including the right to request asylum,” he added, saying that many will try again.

Some migrants, like Raquel, a 44-year-old Venezuelan who sold hard-boiled eggs with salt to pay for a small shared room in Tapachula, expressed hope that the summit could generate a plan that would make it easier to reach the United States. .

«I would like both countries to help us and give us the opportunity to enter … legally without having to risk crossing Mexico or turning ourselves in,» he said.