EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Worn down by lengthy U.S. asylum procedures and trapped by the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of migrants fleeing crime, poverty and oppression in their countries have requested refugee status in Mexico since March.

According to the Mexican government, a total of 5,637 foreigners requested to stay in Mexico as refugees from March 1 to June 30. Since September 2019 to the end of June, that number stands at 28,041.

Previously, in all of 2019, a record 70,302 migrants petitioned for refugee status in Mexico. The Mexican Commission of Assistance to Migrants (COMAR) reports that 30,045 of those were Hondurans; 8,991 from El Salvador; and 8,677 from Cuba. The trend has held in 2020, except that Haitians have replaced Salvadorans in the number of refugee petitions, according to COMAR.

Vanaia Marzo Gomez

“I have court (in El Paso, Texas) next month, but if I had the possibility of getting papers here (Mexico), I would give up on going over there, but so far, I don’t have that either,” said Vanaia Marzo Gomez, a Cuban working construction jobs in Juarez.

Gomez said many fellow Cubans have decided to stay in Juarez, given they have found out that getting asylum in the United States has become very difficult.

He said he would continue making a living in Juarez and maybe even open a small business if the United States turns him down.

Marco, another Cuban living in Juarez, said he plans to stay in Mexico.

“I’m selling Cuban food — corn, breaded chicken and things like that,” he said. “I gave up on political asylum and I will stay in Juarez, where I am now.”

Despite the Mexican border city’s reputation for drug violence, Marco said he feels safer there than in Cuba, where the communist regime refused to let him open up a business.

“Marco,” who sells corn and breaded chicken out of a cart on the streets of Juarez, Mexico. (photo by Roberto Delgado/Special to Border Report)

“It’s not possible to do this in Cuba. […] Here there’s more opportunity, more freedom,” said Marco, who would not give his full name. He added that his entire family, including his young daughters, stayed behind in Cuba.

In his second state of the union address on Tuesday, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said his administration will honor international agreements to accept refugees in an orderly manner. And he noted that refugee requests have gone through the roof in Mexico in the past few years, with only 1,300 petitions filed in 2013 compared to the 70,000 in 2019.

However, he also reported that 1,700 Mexican soldiers are patrolling the border with Guatemala to stop human smuggling and that 3,124 others are near the U.S. border to carry out the “humanitarian rescue of migrants.”

Juarez freelance journalist Roberto Delgado contributed to this report.

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