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Mexico tries new approach to asylum-seekers at the border

On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives plans to vote on a resolution to stop President Trump’s national emergency declaration to fund construction of walls and barriers on the border with Mexico. But what is actually happening at the border? Hari Sreenivasan spoke with Texas Tribune reporter Julián Aguilar about Mexico’s handling of asylum seekers and the much talked about caravans.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Tuesday, the House of Representatives plans to vote on a resolution to stop President Trump's use of a national emergency declaration to fund construction of walls and barriers on the border with Mexico. But what is actually happening on both sides of the border? I spoke with Texas Tribune reporter Julián Aguilar yesterday via Skype from El Paso about that and the status of the much talked about caravan.

  • Julián Aguilar:

    Well the estimated 1,600 or so folks from Central America arrived in Piedras Negras, which is just across the river from Eagle Pass, Texas. They arrived February 4th and they were housed in a factory that the city turned into a makeshift shelter. So they had been waiting there from reports that I saw, all month only between 12 and 15 of those folks were allowed to actually seek asylum in the U.S. and the rest were offered visas by the Mexican government. Some were given visas that lasted a year that were renewable that allows them to travel freely and work there. Other folks were given a 30 day temporary visa to give them more time to get this year long visa.

    But you know a lot of folks in Texas praised the government of Piedras Negras and Coahuila for keeping these migrants there for offering an alternative instead of you know rushing the border or trying to breach CBP and seek asylum the way we saw in November. I think everybody remembers what happened in San Ysidro in Tijuana when you know dozens of folks tried to breach the border fence there, the barrier. Compared to that there was a lot of order.

    Now there were a lot of upset folks that thought they were going to be able to seek asylum and they were upset that the Mexican government for keeping them there and instead offering them safe haven in Mexico, instead of allowing them to come north but again it was not as chaotic as we saw in November and Mexican and state officials lauded the government for keeping these folks housed there and offering them an alternative even though those folks have probably not ideally what they thought they were going to do.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Yeah. So now is this a result of federal policy from Mexico responding to the Trump administration's request to keep people there and wait for asylum outside the United States or is this the state taking matters into its own hands?

  • Julián Aguilar:

    You know it kind of depends on who you talk to. Obviously the immigration proposals come from the federal government, federal side. But some analysts that I wrote, excuse me, that I spoke with and wrote about in the Tribune story they said the federal government within itself is still trying to exactly figure out how it responds to the Trump administration's demands and what they get in response. You know what does President Lopez Obrador have to gain from listening to President Trump? You know a lot of folks saying you know there's still ongoing trade negotiations going on that. So this was largely an effort by the state of Coahuila and the city of Piedras Negras.

    Again, the folks that I talked to said that with respect to exact black and white policies sometimes the left hand doesn't necessarily know what the right hand is doing. So I think we're still trying to figure out exactly what the federal policy is been. In the meantime a lot of the responsibility is falling on the state governments in Mexico to to deal with this influx of people. And there, you know from what I understand they're going to keep coming.

    Now it should be noted that on the flip side some of these folks were bused to other cities for example Ciudad Juarez, just across the border from El Paso. And the mayor was upset. The mayor said look, the shelters are full, they already have a lot of people there that are waiting to seek asylum and that are that are waiting at Ciudad Juarez. So to add another hundreds of boats from another state was just not the way things should be done between state governments and local governments here in Mexico.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right. Julian Aguilar of the Texas Tribune, thanks so much for joining us.

  • Julián Aguilar:

    Thank you.

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