Refugees are flocking to Mexico for asylum as Trump closes doors to the US

Mexico is fielding a ballooning number of asylum applications.
Mexico is fielding a ballooning number of asylum applications.
Image: AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd
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During US president Donald Trump’s first month in office, the Department of Homeland Security saw a 40% drop in “apprehensions and the prevention of inadmissible persons” at crossings between the border of Mexico and the US; after the Trump administration threatened to separate children from their parents at the border, the number of parents and children apprehended at crossings dropped by 93%.

Up to this point, many of the people who had been trying to illegally enter the US at the southern border in recent years were not Mexicans, but refugees from other Latin American countries passing through Mexico.

And the number of refugees from all regions arriving in the US has been dropping as well since Trump became US president—with entrants from Latin America (not high to begin with) down to almost zero.

Based on the numbers, it’s likely that the number of people seeking refuge is not necessarily declining—they may just be stopping in Mexico.

In 2013, 1,296 people applied for asylum in Mexico, according to COMAR, the Mexican agency for refugees and asylum seekers. In 2016, the number increased nearly seven-fold, to 8,788. COMAR predicts 2017’s final tally will rise to 20,000.

The trend is in part due to violence in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala that has been chronic since well before Trump was elected US president. Nearly 90% of asylum applicants to Mexico came from those three countries in 2016. Similarly, the growing political crisis in Venezuela—which Trump chided during his speech at the UN General Assembly this week—is likely behind a jump in asylum seekers to Mexico from that country. (In 2016, 361 Venezuelans applied, compared to just 57 in 2015.)

But the overall upward trend of previous years is dwarfed by the predicted leap in applicants in 2017; According to COMAR’s provisional numbers, 8,703 people applied to Mexican asylum by mid-August. As of that month, the NY Times reports Mexico was expecting a total of 20,000 by the end of the year.

By the UN’s count, the number of displaced people globally is approaching 66 million. Migration and refugees are a centerpiece of discussion at the 2017 UN General Assembly—and in a backhanded way, in Trump’s explicitly protectionist speech at the Assembly, and in Mexican president ‘s Enrique Peña Nieto’s notable absence at the US-hosted event.