Some asylum seekers forced to wait in Mexico help each other
SAN LUIS RIO COLORADO, Mexico — A small group of asylum seekers finds space under a canopy on the side of a road leading into the United States, chatting to pass the time as a blazing desert sun pushes the heat into triple digits and fumes roll in from dozens of cars lined up to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.
Coming from Guatemala, Nicaragua, Mexico, Cuba and many other countries, they’re waiting in San Luis Río Colorado, Mexico, to seek asylum at the official border crossing just south of San Luis, Ariz.
Under the canopy, surrounded by little but fencing and some stores and restaurants, they look like old friends. They have banded together around their small fold-up table, where they spend hours waiting.
They assign people with children to early morning shifts when the heat isn’t as bad. A daily “colecta” — a collection of cash — pays for water and snacks for those guarding the table.
“Here, you have nobody but each other,” Julio Montenegro, a 33-year-old Guatemalan who has been waiting for several weeks, said on a hot afternoon in late June.
Despite their bond, this group has just met. They’re among roughly 950 people on the waitlist in San Luis Río Colorado that’s moving slowly — only a few people each day get called for the chance to start a new life, and there are days when none do.
President Trump’s administration forces asylum seekers to wait in Mexican cities before they can start the asylum process, a policy referred to as “metering.”
On some parts of the border, asylum seekers camp out in tents for weeks. They did in San Luis Río Colorado until late spring, when temperatures became dangerously high.
Now, most stay in hotels or rent rooms in houses, paid for by relatives in the U.S.
Despite the heat, San Luis Río Colorado is relatively safe compared with other Mexican border cities, where kidnapping and murder are rampant.
Many migrants waiting to get to the U.S. can feel comfortable walking down the street here, said Martin Salgado, who runs a shelter in the city of less than 200,000 people. He also helps manage the wait list, getting word from the Mexican government when the U.S. approves a number of people for asylum interviews.
Claudio Aviles, 25, of Guerrero, Mexico, was in San Luis Río Colorado with his wife and two young children for over three months and helped Salgado, the shelter operator, coordinate the waitlist.
At the border, waitlists are managed by local shelters or asylum seekers themselves. There have been reports of bribery and cheating to move up the list, so Aviles was dedicated to making it fair. He’s now in Alabama with relatives, who had sent money so his family could rent a house while they waited.
“There’s a lot of crime in Guerrero,” Aviles said. “We’re looking for a better life.”