Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Migrants accuse immigration agents of extortion at northern border

Migrants waiting at a shelter in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, for an opportunity to apply for asylum in the United States have accused immigration agents of charging up to US $1,500 to expedite the process, a situation they say has left them stranded in the border city with no certainty about when their cases will be heard.

According to the largely Cuban and Venezuelan migrants currently staying at the Casa Senda de Vida (Path of Life House) shelter, National Immigration Institute (INM) agents are not respecting the lists given to them by United States authorities which name the migrants they will process on any given day under the so-called “metering” system.

Migrants told the newspaper El Universal that United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) used to provide the lists to Casa Senda de Vida director Héctor Silva, who would take those called to the McAllen-Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge.

Before they proceeded to the Hidalgo, Texas, port of entry, Silva would take photographs of the migrants, which he then sent to CBP to confirm that the people crossing the border were in fact those who were summoned.

Up to 50 migrants per day were admitted to the U.S. under the system.

However, migrants and volunteers at the shelter said that for the past two months, only INM agents have received the CBP lists on which the would-be asylum applicants staying at Casa Senda de Vida appear.

Mexican immigration agents have taken advantage of the change by excluding some of those named and replacing them with other migrants not staying at the shelter who have paid between US $1,200 and $1,500 for the privilege of having an expedited appointment with United States authorities, they said.

“They come to Senda de Vida and take migrants to the international bridge but on the way, they pick up more people who are also presented to the CBP,” migrants and shelter staff told El Universal.

“We saw that the transfer of people decreased from Monday to Saturday, we began to ask why and discovered that halfway there the agents picked up more people, that’s why the number of people they took from Senda de Vida went down.”

The migrants said the situation has left them feeling desperate and helpless.

Although some are paying agents a hefty fee to present their asylum requests without having to endure a lengthy wait, that doesn’t guarantee that the CBP will hear their cases, a Cuban man said.

“On Monday, 10 women left here [the shelter], my mother-in-law should have left that day but she didn’t go until Tuesday. When they [the 10 women] reached the American side, they were arrested because other people had been picked up that weren’t those the CBP had asked for,” he said.

“After they were arrested, my mother-in-law spoke to two of them and they told her that they were detained because they [the migrants not from Senda de Vida] weren’t on the list . . . I told Héctor Silva what was happening, that [the INM agents] even go to hotels to pick up the migrants. They’re not staying at Senda de Vida and that’s why they’re not on the lists that the CBP sends,” the migrant added.

He said it was possible that migrants staying at the shelter won’t ever have the chance to plead their cases for asylum.

A Venezuelan man who arrived in Reynosa six weeks ago with his wife and two children expressed a similar sentiment, telling El Universal that he feared being stuck in the border city indefinitely.

“We can’t imagine when my family’s turn will arrive because we’ve heard that they’re paying up to US $1,500 . . . It’s time for an investigation about these cases, there are people who have been here longer than me, up to 90 days,” he said.

The INM declined an interview request from El Universal to respond to the corruption claims.

In February, the immigration institute’s delegate in the city was dismissed after being accused of charging migrants US $3,500 not to be deported.

Source: El Universal (sp) 

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