Migrant shelters with many empty beds. Soup kitchens with food to spare. Soldiers patrolling intersections where migrant families once begged for spare change.
In Ciudad Juárez and other Mexican cities along the border, the story is much the same: Instead of rising, as elected officials and immigration advocates had warned, the number of migrants trying to enter the United States has dropped since the expiration in May of a restriction on pandemic era.
The unusual scenes of relative calm stem from a series of actions the Biden administration has taken, such as imposing tougher penalties for illegal border crossings, to try to reverse a huge jump in migrants trying to reach the United States.
But it’s also the result of tough steps Mexico has taken to discourage migrants from piling up along the border, including transporting them to places deep in the country’s interior.
Mexico’s strategy reflects the country’s emergence as an enforcer of US migration policies, often acting in tandem and also taking its own steps to control the border as its northern cities have struggled to house and feed large numbers of migrants. The harsh conditions drew global attention after a devastating fire in March at a Juárez migrant detention center that left dozens dead.
Underscoring the easing of pressure on border towns, Mexican migration authorities in Juárez recently dismantled a tent camp set up after the deadly fire.
The website, which opened with 240 people in May, had only 80 people this month after many migrants scheduled appointments with US border officials at ports of entry using a mobile app created this year.
Cristina Coronado, who runs a soup kitchen for migrants at the Catholic cathedral in downtown Juárez, said shelters in the city were “half full” after migrants were able to get appointments across the border or were taken by Mexican authorities to other parts of the country. .
However, Ms. Coronado and other migrant advocates warned that the pause may be short-lived, as hundreds of migrants, mostly from Venezuela, Haiti and Central America, continue to flow into southern Mexico each day from Guatemala with the goal of traveling north.
“As long as the conditions in the countries of origin do not change, as long as people continue to leave, there will come a point where we will again see the borders saturated,” said Alejandra Macías Delgadillo, director of Asylum Access Mexico, a non-profit that helps asylum seekers.
How long the combination of US and Mexican policies will sustain transitions remains to be seen, she added, but one thing is clear: “I don’t think it’s going to be permanent.”
Currently, US authorities have recorded a sharp drop in arrests of migrants at illegal border crossings since the public health measure known as Title 42, which barred most undocumented people from entering the country, ended.
By the end of June, migrant apprehensions had begun to creep along some parts of the border, but were still considerably lower than in the spring. On June 29, border patrol agents in the El Paso sector, historically one of the busiest, encountered 654 people trying to enter the United States illegally, down from nearly 2,000 a day in early May.
The measures introduced recently by the Biden administration include tougher penalties, such as a five-year ban on entering the United States for migrants repeatedly caught trying to enter illegally, and improvements to the application designed to streamline asylum applications.
But Mexico’s government, which had already agreed to accept non-Mexican migrants deported from the United States before the pandemic-era restriction expired, has also taken steps contributing to fewer border crossings.
In addition to transporting and flying migrants away from northern Mexico to other parts of the country, including Chiapas, the country’s southernmost state, the government has introduced bureaucratic obstacles for migrants trying to reach the US border.
In the city of Tapachula, on Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala, migration offices that have been set up to provide temporary permits allowing people to travel north. closed.
The government of Mexico imposed nationwide mandate stop issuing any documentation allowing migrants and refugees to stay in Mexico. Even permits based on humanitarian grounds were forbidden and replaced with deportation orders giving migrants days to leave the country.
Officials soon reversed or eased these measures, but migrant groups say their impact was clear. “I think the logic is to tire them out,” said Eunice Rendón, coordinator of Agenda Migrante, a coalition of migrant activist groups. “Let them be discouraged and go back.”
Juárez, which was a main point of departure to reach the United States, is now patrolled by hundreds of Mexican soldiers, ostensibly to attack crime, but it is also strengthening attempts to assert order after a chaotic episode this year, when hundreds of migrants tried. forcing their way across the border over a bridge leading to El Paso, Texas.
The large concentration of soldiers created a clear disincentive for migrants, said Tonatiuh Guillén, former head of Mexico’s migration agency. “No elections in Mexico, that’s the message,” said Mr. Guillén, emphasizing how the soldiers created a “threatening environment” for migrants.
Migrants who are now deep in the interior of Mexico, hindered by all sorts of obstacles, are looking for options. In Mexico City, the capital, small clusters of migrants sleep on streets surrounding a square in the central part of the city.
Michael Fernando Poveda, 26, who said he left Ecuador to escape increasing violence and a lack of work, sleeps in a tent left behind by a Haitian migrant who planned to cross into the United States. Citing the new challenges of making it across the border, Mr. Poveda said, “You don’t know if you’re going to cross or if you’re going to stay or if you’re going to be deported.”
Despite the challenges faced by many migrants in Mexico, the country’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has tried to reframe the narrative, telling reporters recently that Mexico “leads by example” in adopting humanitarian policies.
But political expediency may also be part of the equation, analysts say.
Mexico’s stricter approach benefits the Biden administration’s efforts to improve border control ahead of next year’s US presidential election.
At the same time, according to critics of Mexico’s president such as Jorge Castañeda, a former foreign minister, the strategy insulates Mr. López Obrador from explicitly questioning Washington about domestic moves that civil liberties groups see as anti-democratic, such as trying to sway. the nation’s election agency.
A spokesman for Mexico’s National Institute of Migration said officials were not available for comment.
More migrants who have been streaming into northern Mexican cities are finding it easier to start the asylum process because of improvements to the application known as CBP One.
On June 30, Homeland Security announced the expansion of appointments through the program to 1,450 per day, a nearly 50 percent increase from May 12, the day Title 42 was repealed.
In Tijuana, Enrique Lucero, manager of the city’s migration office, said migrants in shelters and hotels are using the app rather than trying to scale the two-layer steel wall that separates the city from San Diego.
“People are getting appointments faster than before because more are available,” he said.
The situation in Tijuana, Mr. Lucero added, was “completely calm” and there was “a lot of space for migrants in refugee camps.”
As of mid-June, 1,603 migrants were in U.S. Border Patrol custody in the El Paso sector, according to internal data obtained by The Times, compared with 5,000 to 6,000 per day before the end of Title 42.
But the factors that have caused millions of migrants to leave their homes across Latin America for the United States, including violence and economic hardship, have not abated.
Diego Piña Lopez, associate director of Casa Alitas, a shelter network in Tucson, Arizona, said shelters there receive large numbers of Mexican asylum seekers. Many have been displaced by violence that has gripped states like Michoacán and Guerrero, where drug cartels have taken control of villages and towns.
In fact, along the Arizona border, illegal crossings have increased. Border agents in the Tucson sector made 7,010 apprehensions the week that ended June 30, compared with 4,290 the week that ended June 2.
Much further south, the number of migrants traveling through the Darién Gap, a brutal jungle crossing linking Central and South America, has soared this year, to more than 200,000 by July 5, compared to fewer than 50,000 migrants during the same period of last year, according to the government of Panama.
Maureen Meyers, vice president of the Washington Office on Latin America, who visited the Guatemala-Mexico border in mid-June, said it was too early to say whether there would be a long-term decline in migration flows.
She said her team observed Mexican immigration officials transporting Guatemalans and other migrants back to Guatemala, while transporting others elsewhere in Mexico.
“There’s a lot of movement of people, and nobody has a clear sense of what’s going on,” she said.
While major border cities such as Juárez and Tijuana are relatively calm, pressure points persist. In Matamoros, across from Brownsville, Texas, where shelter is scarce, migrants stay in an outdoor camp.
“Matamoros is not ready for this,” said Glady Cañas, who runs a nonprofit that helps migrants in the camp. “We don’t have the resources to help them.”
Reporting was contributed by Edyra Espriella in Matamoros, Mexico; Rocío Gallegos in Juárez, Mexico; and Juan de Dios García Davish in Tapachula, Mexico.