While others are banned, Colombians reach the United States via Mexico

New York (AFP) – When his mobile phone and computer accessories business was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, Alvaro began considering leaving Colombia for the United States

The 55-year-old, who said he also faced discrimination in Colombia because of his sexual orientation, learned this year that Mexico does not require visas for Colombians. This means that it can easily fly to the borders of the United States.

“I started hearing that one could ask for political asylum at the border,” said Alvaro, who insisted that his last name not be published due to his legal status.

Alvaro joined tens of thousands of Colombians fleeing one of Latin America’s most populous countries on a migration route rarely used – until now.

Colombians were stopped at the US-Mexico border more than 15,000 times in March, an increase of nearly 60% from February and nearly 100-fold over last year, according to US Customs and Border Protection figures. Many travel to Mexico City or Cancun and take a bus or other plane to border cities before crossing into the United States

Andres Daza, a lawyer who works with the Colombian consulate in Miami, said that years ago, Colombians came to the United States on visas and later sought asylum.

But the Biden administration is pressing Mexico to get tougher. In April, Mexico mandated online registration for Colombians, demanding travel itineraries, hotel reservations in Mexico, and departure tickets.

Alvaro found a way to beat the rules. A smuggler booked him a hotel room and traveled to Mexico City. From there, travel to Mexicali, across the border from Calexico, California. Climb a boundary wall with a jiggling ladder and surrender to the boundary elements. After being detained for a few days, he finally went to Miami, where he had his nephews.

Over the past year, Mexico has imposed travel restrictions on three other South American countries that have had a large number of immigrants coming to the United States, and the results are immediate. US authorities stopped Brazilians 65% fewer times in January, the month after Mexico began applying for visas. Ecuadoreans were stopped 95% fewer times in October, a month after visa requirements. Venezuelans were stopped 88% fewer times in February, after visa requirements began on January 21.

A similar dynamic may be at play with Colombians.

“If you look at the large numbers of Venezuelans who arrived in Mexico in December, before the visa restrictions were introduced in January, it might suggest that people have been told — it’s a role for smuggling organizations and others —” now This is your chance, come on now, said Maureen Meyer, vice president of programs at the Washington Office of Latin America, a human rights group.

Colombians have no reason to worry. Along with Peru and Chile, Colombia and Mexico make up the economic bloc of the Pacific Alliance. The four countries agree not to request visas from each other.

Colombians have largely avoided expulsions carried out by the United States under pandemic powers to deny migrants the opportunity to seek asylum. The United States has expelled immigrants more than 1.8 million times using the authority of Title 42, which is named after the Public Health Act and is set to expire on May 23.

Title 42 has been applied unevenly across nationalities, due to costs, diplomatic relations, and other considerations. In March, only 303, or 2% of stoppages, resulted in the expulsion of Colombians, according to CBP. In a statement, the agency said its ability to expel immigrants under Title 42 “may be limited for several reasons, including Mexico’s ability and ability to receive these individuals.”

Mexico agreed to accept immigrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Cuba and Nicaragua.

Officials said several hundred Colombians have been expelled under Title 42 since the United States ramped up flights there in March. Witness at the Border, an advocacy group that tracks removal flights, posted 28 to Colombia in March and April, up from 12 in the previous 10 months.

Sitting on a folding metal chair in a crowded waiting room at the Colombian Consulate in New York, Darwin Hincape said he left Colombia and headed to Cancun after being blackmailed by gangs. Hincapi listened to music on his headphones while he hoped to obtain a Colombian passport. US Border Patrol agents took his body after he crossed the border in November with a smuggler.

“There’s a quality of life here that I don’t have in Columbia,” said the 27-year-old, who now lives in Queens.

The pandemic has left many companies in Colombia bankrupt. The country witnessed massive protests last year over proposed income tax increases.

In rural areas, community leaders face threats from rebel groups and drug cartels fighting over deserted lands after the country’s largest rebel movement, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, also known as the FARC, made peace with the government in 2016.

Carmen Salavareta, whose nonprofit group helps immigrants obtain local ID cards and provides English lessons in New Jersey, said Angels for Action is seeing a record number of Colombians seeking help.

“Many of them are professionals, but they come across the border on foot. Can you believe it?” She said, adding that some come to her organization for food and clothes.

Jaime Rojas and his wife Natalie Chaparro are among the professionals who have crossed on foot. They left Bogotá with their two children after Rojas lost his job as an information systems technician and Chaparro lost her job as an English teacher. They also faced reprisals from gangs for their volunteer work in an attempt to get young people off drugs.

The family now lives in New Jersey. Husband and wife work 10 to 12 hours a day sorting legumes and packing salads in a wholesale food factory.

“This has been hard work, but we’re much better off here,” said Chaparro, 36.


Salomon reported from Miami. Associated Press reporter Manuel Rueda in Bogota contributed to this report.

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