At Mexico’s southern border, the migrant flow is undeterred

CIUDAD HIDALGO, MEXICO - MAY 9: Migrants cross the Suchiate River, which marks the Guatemala-Mexico border, on May 9, 2023 in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico. Title 42, which allowed the U.S. government to turn away certain migrants at borders during COVID-19 pandemic, expires on May 11 and thousands of migrants are hoping to reach the United States through Mexico. (Photo by Jose Torres/Agencia Press South/Getty Images)

(Agencia Press South / Getty Images)

At Mexico's southern border, the migrant flow is undeterred

Mexico & the Americas

Patrick J. McDonnell

May 22, 2023

Dawn had


barely illuminated the turbid waters of the Rio Suchiate

at the border with Guatemala

when the boatmen plunging long poles in the


muck to propel their vessels beg


n to transport their daily load: a polyglot contingent of migrants from across the globe

who huddle on the rafts





a common destination: the United States.

We didnt make it to America before the end of Title 42, but still we will continue forward, declared Flix Bandres, 61, who led a church group of some two dozen Venezuelans, including women and children, crowded on the

boat??? raft

crafted of wooden planks secured to inflatable inner tubes from tractor tires. It is need, and the search of a better life, that is driving us.

Officials in Washington assert that the numbers of illicit




along the U.S.-Mexico border have declined since the

endthis month on

May 11 end of Title 42. The pandemic-era rule,


put in place by the Trump administration and initially retained by the Biden White House, allowed the Border Patrol to turn back hundreds of thousands of migrants without affording them a chance to apply

within American borders

for political asylum or seek other relief

from within the United States


But here, some 1,000 miles from the Rio Grande, the chaotic scene is

one of

business as usual: Huge numbers of U.S.-bound migrants mostly South and Central Americans, but also




mix of people from Africa, Asia and Europe are


making illegal crossings of the

boundary lines marking the

more than 500-mile border separating Mexico from Guatemala.

The river


pose a


challenge for U.S. authorities navigating the post-Title 42 legal landscape.

The Biden administration, under intense political pressure to ease illicit migration at the


border, warns that those crossing into the

United States country

illegally will be presumed ineligible for asylum and subject to deportation or possibly prison. U.S. officials are encouraging migrants to seek appointments before reaching the

countryU.S. by using


glitchyglitch-proneCPB CBP


mobile app.web application.No statistics are available for It is not known

how many migrants bound for the U.S. are entering the vast border zone between Guatemala and Mexico. Much of the stretch is composed of unpatrolled stretches of river, mountains and jungle. The area has historically been a transit corridor for migrants and contraband,


food and gasoline


illegal drugs.

One indication of the mass of humanity en route to the United States is the record numbers of migrants crossing the Darien Gap, the treacherous, 60-mile stretch of rainforest between Colombia and Panama. Migrants from South America, Africa, Asia and elsewhere


regularly navigate

their way through the

terrain that was once considered

nearly practically

unpassable but has in recent years become one of the planets busiest migration corridors.

Between January and April, 127,687 migrants crossed the Darien, according to Panamanian authorities.

There were fewer That compares to fewer

than 20,000


in the same period last year.

Yet 2022 as a whole set an annual record of almost 250,000. (2022)when an annual record of almost 250,000 migrants was eventually set.

Venezuelans are the largest single group crossing the Darien,

statistics show,

followed by Haitians. Almost all are seeking to make it here to Mexico,


then to the United States.

Mexican authorities are


reporting record numbers of applications for political

asylum in Mexico

almost 50,000 between January and April

this year(2023)

. Many asylum seekers

in Mexico

say they plan to try and enter the United States once they receive legal refuge in Mexico a status that will allow them to travel freely

to the northern border.within Mexico to the northern border.Here,

At the Suchiate River, Mexican immigration agents and National Guard troops watch impassively in the morning swelter as steady streams of migrants alight from the river boats. Passenger


pay a crossing fare of about $1.50, and Mexican officials

are making currently make

no effort to turn them back.

Wealthier migrants

turn to tend to use

the services of coyotes, or people-smugglers, who often use motorbikes to take them

on the next step

north. The smugglers usher their charges down dirt paths, past banana groves and into safe houses, as a prelude to


the next leg of the journey.

But many cant afford those services. They make their way on their own, clambering up


the river levee and onto the streets below, often dazed from the trip and the unforgiving, subtropical heat.

What fate


awaits the migrants after crossing from Guatemala into Mexico remains

something of

a question mark.

With the end of Title 42, migrants say, Mexican authorities stopped issuing temporary safe conduct passes. Those documents had allowed many to make their way to the northern border largely unimpeded by Mexican immigration enforcement.


However, Mexican authorities appear


have shifted tactics: Although they are


not being immediately turned back at the border, migrants are being stopped at checkpoints on roads radiating from the border zone. They are then bused to points in the Mexican interior

, and though

it is unclear if they will ultimately be allowed to continue






or face deportation or detention in Mexico.

Mexicos intention appears to be to disperse the swelling migrant population and avoid highly visible buildups in northern and southern border communities.

Mexico has been flying migrants at its northern border from at least one city, Reynosa, to the


interior, according to a tweet last week

(Tuesday, 16 May)

from U.S. Customs and Border


. In addition, Mexican authorities have moved groups of stranded migrants from Mexico City to sites in the



One prevalent rumor is that migrants transported to the


interior are being asked to sign a declaration vowing to leave Mexico

within three days. That is sufficient time to reach


towns and cities along the U.S. border.

Mexican immigration officials did not return messages seeking comment.


immigration agency, known as the

National Immigration Institute has been in disarray since a fire in March

(March 27)

at a lockup in Ciudad Jurez in which 40 migrants perished. The agency


director is facing criminal charges for


negligence, and the institute has temporarily shut down all 33

of its

detention centers, including six here in Chiapas state, along the border with Guatemala.

We really dont know whats going to happen next, said Edward Kapulun, a native of Sierra Leone who was among some 150 migrants stuck at a litter-strewn camp outside the southern city of Tapachula, next to a Mexican immigration checkpoint. Agents had removed many


northbound buses and taxis. We are just waiting here to find out.

said Kapulun.

Among those


marooned at

this and other

camps next to checkpoints in recent days were people from Congo, Senegal, Afghanistan, China and other


nations, though Venezuelans appeared to be the largest single group.

Many fear being kidnapped or robbed


with good reason. Last week, Mexican authorities rescued some 50 U.S.-bound migrants mostly Venezuelans and Central Americans who had been abducted from a bus in

the north of the country.northern Mexico.

A group of six African men at the makeshift camp outside Tapachula said they had paid $300 each

a total of $1,800–

to a taxi driver to take them to the U.S. border, some 1,000 miles away. Instead, the driver dropped them off at the checkpoint in Tapachula, about 30 miles from the Guatemalan frontier, and drove off with their cash.

Kapulun, 29, an electrical engineer who installed solar panels back home in Freetown, said he

is was gay and

faced repression in Sierra Leone because of his sexual orientation. He said he plans to seek asylum in the United States.

Like others here, he flew to South America and made his way overland to Central America crossing the Darien Gap and later boarded buses and other transport through Central America before reaching Mexico.

A group of 21 Afghans

including men, women and children

was also stuck at the roadside camp, next to a fetid stream that many used to wash clothes. The


said they were ethnic Hazaras, a mostly Shiite group that has


been targeted by the Taliban and other militant Sunni factions



of them said they

had flown

from Dubai

to Brazil

from Dubai

and made the

overland journey of more than 4,000 milesmore-than 4,000- mile overland journey

to Mexico, mostly on buses.

My question is: How do we become Americans? asked Nematullah Nikzad, 30, who said his family ran a clothing shop


in Kabul. Under the Taliban, life is very hard for us now. We want to be Americans.

His wife and three children remain in the Afghan capital, he said. He hopes to send for them once he is settled in the United States.

Eliana Parra, 48, from Venezuela was traveling with


granddaughters, ages


9, 7 and 4. They were headed to Indiana, she said, where her daughter, the girls’ mother,

the mother of the girls



been living for

a the past


It has been a very hard trip, Parra said, recalling the


trek through the Darien with


children. But my daughter said its time our family needs to be together again.”

A group of six Chinese men and women said they were headed to Flushing, in the New York City borough of Queens. They had heard of a large Chinese community there. Communicating with a reporter through a


translation app, one of the


men, Yelong Yang,

described spoke of

their motivation.

We just think of Americas dream of freedom, wrote Yang, 23. We want a better future in America.

Special correspondents Liliana Nieto del Ro, Juan de Dios Garca Davish and Mara de Jess Peters in southern Mexico and Cecilia Snchez in Mexico City contributed to this report.