Migrants Are Stuck In Mexico A Honduran mother of two, who is pregnant with a third, remains in a Mexico City shelter after hearing of the U.S. family separation policy.

Migrants Are Stuck In Mexico

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/622959075/622959076" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


At a migrant shelter in Mexico City, it's time for English class. The children are sitting behind a wooden table. They're mischievously running up to the teacher or giggling with their classmates.




GARCIA-NAVARRO: And when they get too rowdy, the teacher makes them focus with a song.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Singing in Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The children, who are anywhere from 6 to 10 years old, practice words like hair and ear and eye. There is one word they all know, though.



GARCIA-NAVARRO: They say hi and greet me with big smiles. And then one little girl with long, tangled, brown hair, jumps up and throws herself into my arms for a hug, and she doesn't want to let go. The little girl's mother is from Honduras. And the family, which includes another little boy, has been here at this shelter for about a month. We aren't using any names for the family's protection.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The young mother is in her mid-20s, petite with a dimple and big, bright eyes. She left her home behind because of threats from the father of her two children.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "He would hit me," she says. "He would threaten me and the children. I sent him to prison, but he's out now, and he's psychotic," she says.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "And even though I moved from home to get away from him, he would always discover where I was."

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He was involved in the gang, she says, with bad people that can do a lot of damage. When he found out that she was with another man and pregnant, he went crazy, she said. And that's when she decided she had to leave, taking the long road north, hoping to get to America in safety.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But she's heard about President Trump's new zero-tolerance policies. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has also made it harder for victims of domestic violence to get asylum in the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So she decided to wait here for now, unsure what to do next in the midst of the Trump administration's shifting policies.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "It's very difficult that they're doing this," she says. "Our children are our lives. I don't know what to do. It's just unimaginable that they would take my children away. Everything I've done has been in order to protect them and stay with them."

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "But I can't go back to Honduras, and I can't stay in Mexico either." She says her husband tracked her down to another Mexican migrant shelter and then called her mother. She says, "He told my mother he would find me and send me and my children home in pieces."

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So she's staying put for now. But other migrants are still traveling north.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Our next stop is in the town of Apizaco, about two and a half hours from Mexico City.

I'm standing on the side of the train tracks. The migrants are perched on top of these trains. They're carrying backpacks. They're - it's chilly. They're wearing woolen hats as the train rumbles north.

Some jump off while the train is moving and make their way to the Sagrada Familia migrant shelter right next to the tracks. It offers them a safe place to sleep, some hot food before they grab the next train to the border.

Inside, the migrants pass the time sitting in the concrete courtyard or kicking a ball around. Sergio Luna is the shelter director.

SERGIO LUNA: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's a dangerous journey, he says. Some will be attacked, raped or lose limbs making their way north. In fact, while we're there, we see a couple try and jump onto the train and miss, almost getting pulled under the grinding wheels. And on top of these dangers, Luna says, now migrants have heard they might be separated from their kids in the U.S. or be put in detention.

LUNA: (Through interpreter) They are telling us they don't want to lose their children. At the same time, they don't want to stay here in Mexico. They are trapped here because many of these families are fleeing for their lives from violence.

(Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says Mexico isn't safe for these migrants, as criminal groups also target them here. But Mexico is now forced to accommodate them because of U.S. immigration policy.

LUNA: (Through interpreter) Mexican government, as well as UNICEF, the United Nations and other groups that deal with this are simply not prepared to help and protect these migrants. At the moment, it's temporary shelters like these that are the frontlines of helping these stranded migrants.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Before I leave, Luna tells me he worries that the Trump administration will use immigration as a currency to be bartered. Trump often links the issue of immigration to negotiations on trade with Mexico. Adding to all this volatility is the direction Mexico itself is headed. On July 1, there will be a presidential election. And if the polls are to be believed, front-runner and leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador could win. The former American ambassador to Mexico, Roberta Jacobson, says he will have to confront the issue of immigration head on.

ROBERTA JACOBSON: I think one of the things that's most interesting that he will discover is that Mexico has become, in some ways - and I don't want to overstate this - more and more like the United States in the migration issue in that it is not just a transit country anymore. It is, in fact, a receiving country. There are people from all over the world, but in particular from Central America, who are coming to Mexico and staying.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Since 2014, the number of people seeking asylum in Mexico has increased 683 percent to nearly 15,000 asylum-seekers. This year, there will be even more. Human rights groups say helping Central American migrants is not Mexico's priority. Instead, despite the claims of President Trump, the country has been upping its enforcement and cooperation with the U.S. by deporting Central Americans here illegally. Migration experts estimate that 400,000 Central American migrants enter Mexico every year, and Roberta Jacobson says Mexico has been a vital partner in U.S. immigration strategy.

JACOBSON: Mexico has returned as many as half the number of people who in total attempted to get to the United States, so it does make a difference to the United States whether or not Mexico is cooperating.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That cooperation between the incoming government and the Trump administration is not a given anymore. All three main candidates have come out and condemned Trump's immigration policies. And while the election here is not about Donald Trump, he is deeply unpopular and questions are being asked.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: On an afternoon talk show, this was the exchange between the anchor and guest in reaction to Trump's zero-tolerance policies.


UNIDENTIFIED GUEST: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The anchor says, according to Mr. Trump, Mexico does nothing. But a terrorist has never crossed into the U.S. via the southern border - never. The guest responds, at this moment, the question is this - Mexico has had a historic collaboration on migration, and what has that gotten us? We shouldn't get angry, but we should rethink our policies in regards to the United States.

And Mexico's next potential president could do just that. We spoke with Lopez Obrador's top security adviser Alfonso Durazo, who suggested in our interview that immigration enforcement would no longer be a priority.

ALFONSO DURAZO: (Through interpreter) Military and police force will not be used to repress the migrant population. We'll primarily use diplomatic channels with the origin countries of these migrants to reach some kind of agreement.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: A former Trump administration official with knowledge of Mexico told me that some at the Department of Homeland Security in the U.S. are worried about what Lopez Obrador could do. Trump's immigration policies could force Lopez Obrador into a corner, the official said. And the new government may take their foot off the gas on migration enforcement.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Back at the shelter in Mexico City, the young mother holds her daughter close.

(Speaking Spanish).

The little girl who hugged me says, while shyly smiling, that she wants to be a doctor when she grows up.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Doctora, wow.

For now their fate is unclear.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The young mother says, "We're human beings with feelings. My family in the U.S. keeps telling me to be patient and that God will open the door."

Copyright © 2018 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.