As the Trump administration moves forward on stricter border enforcement and deportation laws, greater numbers of Central American immigrants fleeing from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras are abandoning hopes of entering the U.S., either illegally or by asylum, and are instead attempting to remain in Mexico.
Reports from local Central American media and data provided by the Center for Immigration Studies have indicated a trend of more Central Americans seeking refuge in Mexico instead of the U.S., according to the Washington Examiner.
"As the Trump administrations tightens immigration enforcement, Central Americans are increasingly opting to apply for refugee status in Mexico," the CIS stated in a report.
Mexican Undersecretary of Migration Humberto Roque Villanueva told Honduran media that his country expects more Central Americans seeking asylum.
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"The radicalization of some measures with the new U.S. government makes us think that the number of applications will increase," Villanueva said.
The number of applications for asylum in Mexico instead of the U.S. has steadily risen, tripling between 2012 through 2015.
"There aren't jobs for everybody, and people fear for their life," professor Jaime Rivas Castillo of Don Bosco University in El Salvador told the Los Angeles Times. "So they go look for other places to live, if not in the U.S. than in Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica or Nicaragua."
In 2014, during the height of a migrant influx, specifically of unaccompanied Central American children illegally crossing the U.S. border, former President Barack Obama called on Mexico to impose stricter enforcement along its own border with Central America. In 2015, Mexico deported nearly 200,000 Central Americans back to their home countries.
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20-year-old Yessica Alvarado of El Salvador decided to cross the Mexican border and remain in the country instead of traveling to the U.S., fearing for her life after being threatened by hometown gang members.
"It's hard getting to Mexico, but not as hard as getting to the U.S.," Alvarado said.
The shift towards residing in Mexico appears to be partly influenced by the Trump administration's promises to enact stricter border enforcement and sweeping deportations. A potential policy of separating mothers and children at the border has also had a chilling effect.
Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly has disclosed that his agency is considering amending current policy of releasing undocumented families caught at the border while they wait for their asylum hearings. Instead, the Department of Homeland Security could begin detaining parents indefinitely while their children are held in protective custody and eventually handed over to citizen family members of foster care, NPR reports.
Elena Alderman of the legal group CARA, which advises immigrants seeking asylum in the U.S., recalled that some of her clients are already being told by U.S. border officials that they will receive no asylum.
"They're being told President Trump no longer wants immigrants," Alderman told WSHU. "They're being told that there is no more asylum in the United States, there's no asylum specifically for mothers, which is a terrifying thing I heard recently."
El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala collectively have the highest murder rate in the world except for current war zones. Photographer Alice Proujansky, who has documented Central American immigrants seeking asylum at the Mexico border, asserts that many of the migrants feel that they do not have a choice but to seek refuge in Mexico or the U.S.
"It was just clear to me that any attempt to dissuade people from trying to get to Mexico wasn't going to work," Proujansky told The Intercept. "Because what they were facing was people saying that they are going to kill their children. The question was, 'What would you do to keep your children alive?' And the answer was, 'Anything.'"