Whatever inducements President Biden promised his Mexican counterpart in exchange for supporting a major shift in U.S. border immigration policy during a January 9 state visit, it wasn’t nearly enough.
Mexico is reeling under the American president’s expanded scheme to re-channel hundreds of thousands of Cuban, Nicaraguan, Venezuelan, and Haitian immigrants this year from their planned illegal border-crossings instead through official ports of entry on pre-approved “humanitarian parole” that comes with highly lucrative two-year U.S. work permits. In a kind of “silver or lead” choice, the administration cajoled those four nationalities by threatening to mark them permanently ineligible for the high-value work permit admissions if they were caught crossing illegally instead of using the parole program
The “CBP One” admission reservation app’s January 12 publicly announced expansion to the four nationalities (it already had been secretively admitting all nationalities through almost all land border ports since at least May 2022, with no major U.S. media coverage) quickly led to the overwhelming of even the expanded shelter capacity in cities throughout Mexico. The number of applicants appears to have far outpaced the American ability to admit them, although all will eventually make it in just the same as if they had crossed illegally.
According to a Center for Immigration Studies analysis of recent Spanish-language media reporting, significant new numbers of foreign nationals from many dozens of countries, lured by CBP One’s huge expansion, are now accumulating alongside those the administration initially pushed back into Mexico. Altogether, they now form lengthening weeks- and months-long lines tens of thousands long that have staggered unprepared Mexican towns and cities and provoked citizens to rebel from south to north.
“We believe that CBP One has encouraged migration,” a February 1 Telemundo news outlet said Enrique Lucero, municipal director of migration for Tijuana, which saw an 181 percent spike in migrant arrivals in just the first two weeks after the Biden administration’s January 12 CBP One expansion. “It looks easier to have an appointment. Yes, we have seen people who arrive with that expectation.”
Those caught in the steadily increasing backlog on the Mexican side of the border quickly became destitute and now fill downtowns where they beg food or pesos, sleep, relieve themselves, disrupt routine civic life, and suffer hard while they travel or wait. Mexican police have taken to a hopeless game of rousting them from business districts or trying to transport them to other Mexican cities that are similarly overwhelmed.
Some of the immigrants who came for CBP One are dying on the way in for it. A 15-year-old Haitian boy died in a Reynosa rental house waiting for his CBP One application to go through, El Sol de Tampico reported January 31.
A great many who came for the Biden work permits are suffering deprivation, criminal victimization, illness, medical neglect, and hunger as they reach for a border hand-off slot time and wait in queue, the media reporting shows.
“This is a humanitarian crisis, because there are families with babies looking for shelters but they are all collapsed, and the municipal police are chasing migrants in the streets,” Cristina Coronado, coordinator of the Human Mobility Pastoral of the Diocese of Juárez told El Diario on January 28. “This is tremendous, tremendous.”
“For now,” she told El Universal on February 4, “many applicants are willing to make the trip if the reward is an opportunity to legally enter the United States.”
Exacerbating all of this is the fact that the CBP One app has continually crashed and often cannot be reliably used on the trail. Stories abound where applicants can’t complete applications or check status, or access anything at all, starting on its first day of widespread use January 12 and continuing to the present day.
U.S. Sliding on the Rules Amid a Muscular Migration Surge?
Meanwhile, in an apparent push to hasten admittances, the Americans reportedly are sliding for some nationalities on basic eligibility requirements that were big selling points for the system. For example, DHS secretly abrogated the requirement that Cubans be vaccinated for Covid and prove they have measles and polio shots, too, before entering, according to a January 13 report by Ciber Cuba, quoting immigration attorney Angel Leal.
The Americans have agreed to let the Cubans through without their vaccinations and get them later inside the United States, Leal told the paper.
It’s no wonder. Cuba is emptying out for CBP One. In fact, lines inside Cuba to get exit passports, visas, and airline tickets extend for kilometers. A Facebook group called “Parole for Cubans I134” has more than 30,000 followers.
Left unclear is whether similar rule-bending is happening with other nationalities surging into Mexico.
All Systems Not a Go as Human Waves Hit
A common misperception is that CBP One admittances are only granted to the four nationalities that President Biden talked about. But Mexican media confirms prior Center for Immigration Studies reporting from November that many other nationalities, including Mexican citizens, are routinely still using it, as they have for the better part of the last year.
New immigrants from around the world who still might not have heard of the program before Biden publicized its expansion to Cubans, Haitians, Venezuelans, and Nicaraguans are piling on, unable to resist the program’s almost impossibly generous terms.
“The migratory flow is constantly increasing abnormally, from Central America, Venezuela, Cuba, Africa, Russia and Ukraine,” Mayor Carlo Pena of Ciudad Victoria, near Reynosa, Mexico, was quoted in a January 27 story in Hoy Tamaulipas. All are coming and using CBP One along with, routinely, Mexican citizens, Central Americans, and Middle Easterners at land border ports from California to Texas.
Ukrainians and Russians are filling the Matamoros camps. Still more using the CBP One app are from Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, Africa, and “even Mexicans”, El Universal reported February 4. “Unlike the migrants who arrive from Central America and other parts of the world, the Russians stay in small hotels, Mayor Mario Alberto Lopez pointed out to Hoy Tamaulipas in a January 26 story.
They are part of the building waiting-line onslaught as more constantly come into Mexico on foot through Guatemala or by air to get closer to the land ports of entry where most of the pre-legalized entries seem still to be happening. Unknown numbers of successful applicants can now fly from other countries to U.S. airports, but apparently not enough to relieve the building pressure on Mexico.
After President Biden publicly announced the program to the world, the migrant population In Reynosa swelled from about 10,000 that were already in the region to 17,000 by January 25, according to El Manana, swamping shelter capacity, including in the city of Matamoros, where a camp of 14,000 seethed. The Americans aren’t close to keeping pace.
The human buildup across from South Texas happened despite the fact that Undersecretary of the Interior (Gobernacion) Tomás Gloria Requena reported that the Americans were admitting some 300 a day over the Reynosa bridges, or some 6,000 to 9,000 per month, a February 3 report in El Manana quoted him as saying. Yellow school buses carry loads over the bridge to McAllen every day, according to a January 19 story by El Sol de Tampico, with photos.
The Americans were admitting some 200 a day (6,000 per month) from Matamoros camps to Brownsville, using the CBP One application, Hoy Taumalipas reported January 28. But this rate wasn’t coming close to drawing down the incoming population, said Pastor Abraham Barberi, who runs the Dulce Refugio because a rush of humanity was ongoing.
“We believe that everyone should be crossing within a month, but we are seeing that people from the interior of the country continue to arrive with the objective of crossing into the United States through this border, since they have heard that it is easier and more agile for this city.”
The same story is unfolding in Mexico’s southern states.
“We have noticed an increase in people after the last decree of the United States,” Freddy Castillo, a migrant advocate in the southern Mexican city of Tapachula, near the Guatemala border, explained to EFE on January 13, one day after the program was activated.
By January 25, more than 18,000 Haitians had flooded into the southern Chiapas city of Tapachula, with hundreds more arriving daily to get their eventual handoffs at the border ports of entry, according to Eje Central, which quoted a human rights activist. Some 3,000 Cubans are on their way to “make an appointment at the border”, according to Norte Digital on February 2.
So many migrants swarmed in that activists accused local and federal governments of “total abandonment”; “The situation for migrants from Venezuela, Haiti, Cuba and Nicaragua became complicated … the day the new United States immigration program started.”
But the Mexicans were requiring travel permits before they could continue on, causing thousands to sleep in public parks and streets while others hopped freight trains to the Texas border rather than wait.
The Mexicans and Americans came up with a solution when hundreds of Cubans showed up in Tapachula with their American approvals already in hand but couldn’t initially proceed without the requisite Mexican travel visas.
So the Americans and Mexicans worked out an ad hoc arrangement allowing them to fly from Tapachula straight into U.S. airports, a happy development for such immigrants.
Thousands from 172 countries are now showing up at the Mexicali airport at the northern border on planes from the south, across from Calexico, Calif., and Yuma, Ariz. CBP One has been operating in Mexicali since September, and for even longer in Tijuana, a two-hour bus ride away.
A Burgeoning Political Crisis for Mexico?
The gathering wait-time storm is proving politically damaging for the Mexican government, which may have gotten far more than it bargained for when Biden visited.
Mexican citizen groups and business organizations are complaining bitterly and demanding local, state, and federal government action, the collective reporting shows. These demands have translated into police campaigns of perceived harassment to move the immigrants out of the way of daily life.
For instance, Tapachula’s business community demanded the Mexican immigration service (INM) bring order to the crisis and provide greater security, EFE reported on January 17 just a few days into the new program as hundreds a day poured into the city. Tapachula’s president of the association of established merchants and property owners complained that the “migratory flow is not going to stop and continues to be high”.
“All of these measures that the United States has taken indicate that all these groups are going to stay in Mexico and many of them return to Tapachula, as it is the immediate border to Central and South America, so a strategy of order and security is important,” Carlos Santiago of the community said.
In Tapachula, police cleared the way for “cleaning brigades” to wash the streets “in the presence of foul odors generated by feces and urine due to the presence of thousands of migrants in the area”, according to Excelsior on January 16. The city was unable to provide bathrooms, and tenants of a nearby market complained the migrants were attacking vendors or contaminating the products they sell “due to the high unhygienic level of the streets and both parks”.
By January 28 in Matamoros, the immigrant population had generated so much garbage that collection trucks had to be diverted from normal city routes three times a day to keep the camp areas in different parts of the city clean, Secretary of Public Services Ernesto Danache told Hoy Tamaulipas in a story on January 28.
In Juarez, Mayor Criz Perez Cuellar sent the police on incessant raids throughout the city that continue to clear the main business district and streets after having received “complaints from the community in relation to the stay of these people in the streets”, according to a February 2 Radio Formula report. The mayor said he felt “obliged to intervene in some way”.
All of this raises key questions upon which the Biden administration’s new pre-legalization gambit hinges:
- Will Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador feel similarly obliged to intervene as this goes on in his country when he knows the Biden administration will inflict no repercussions?
- Will the immigrants continue to participate in the waiting game when recent experience has already shown them the Biden administration will reward them with admission anyway if they cross en masse?
Learn more at Center for Inmigration Studies