“I would rather cross the jungle 10 times than have to go through Mexico again,” several members of the Palmar Hernández family say in unison. There are 24 people -18 adults and six children- who left Caracas on September 1 fleeing from the lack of opportunities and political persecution by the government of Nicolás Maduro, explains Darío, 25, elected family spokesman. “We passed the Darien quickly. Panama and Costa Rica too. But we have been here in Mexico for a month. If they had not stopped us in Arriaga (Chiapas), we would already be in the United States. Now we no longer know if we are going to be able to enter,” he laments, thinking of the agreement between the US and Mexican governments, announced last Tuesday and with immediate effect, which has closed the door to any Venezuelan who enters irregularly through the southern border.
As a consequence of the variety of sources of information they handle -mainly social networks, some media, practically no official entity-, uncertainty reigns among migrants, such as the Palmar Hernández, about the new destination that awaits them when they cross the border. of the United States, if they succeed. Many continue the path “up”, towards the North, despite their doubts; others are waiting. However, they all have two things in common: they do not have the will -or the capacity, since they have invested everything they have and more to make the trip- to back down and they do not trust the Mexican immigration authorities either, due to the constant mistreatment they assure have received, as well as recurring extortions.
The Palmar Hernández family, who travels from Venezuela to Chicago, waits at the Central del Norte, in October 2022.
In Chiapas, a Mexican state bordering Guatemala, a caravan of Venezuelans was advancing along a highway with the same stubborn hope of reaching the United States. Enduring the sun and guarded by a National Guard patrolman, Sandy Araujo, 22, told AFP that the measure should have been informed in advance to migrants like him, who have spent weeks on a painful journey. “It is unfair because many of us have already come tired, exhausted, looking to pass, so they give us this news and it is really quite hard .But we continue forward”, he stressed, making it clear, like so many of his compatriots, that he continues to consider that his visit to Mexico will be transitory.
Although the exact number is impossible to know, precisely because of the irregular status of the majority, there are thousands of people from Venezuela stuck in Mexico. Based on the flow that has been registered recently in previous legs of the route or in the encounters with the Border Patrol of the United States, it is possible to get an idea of the situation.
In August, 30,000 migrants, 23,000 of them Venezuelans, crossed the Darién Gap -the inhospitable jungle that separates Colombia from Panama-, and the upward trend throughout the year suggests that in September the number would have been higher. It is logical that many of them are in Mexican territory now. Likewise, according to data from the US government, in August there were 25,349 encounters with Venezuelan migrants on the southern border, and there has been a gradual increase month by month. Therefore, although it is impossible to accurately estimate the number of migrants “in transit” through Mexico at any given moment, it is possible to speak with confidence of “thousands”.
About 250 of them were this Friday at the Central Bus Terminal of the North of Mexico City, in which there was no space without a body lying on the window that serves as a facade. Their light luggage and anguished faces betrayed their migrant status. Among the exhausted bodies and groups of children playing, there were memories of the Darien in the form of legs full of bites. Another clue to their situation was the conversations that spread rumors of an imminent statement from Joe Biden addressed to them to tell them that the entry into force of the new decree would be delayed to allow them to enter.
Central American migrants charging their cell phones at the Central de Autobuses del Norte, in Mexico City.
Among all, with lost looks, were Ruth, 33 years old, and José Luis, 29, who prefer not to give their last name for fear of the immigration authorities. They set out a month ago from San Cristóbal, Táchira, with their four children – two, six, 14 and 16 years old – and have been in Mexico for 15 days. “Immigration caught us and they told us lies: that they were going to give us a permit to continue traveling, because of the children. But in that they took us to a refuge, the 21st century, if it can be called that, because it is an inhumane place, practically a prison”, says Ruth. “Nor did they ever give us permission and, instead, they forced us to sign an exit document in which, according to them, we voluntarily asked to leave through the border with Guatemala. But we are going north, we are not interested in staying in Mexico”, completes José Luis.
Different versions of these testimonies are repeated in each case. They are heard practically every day by July Rodríguez, an immigrant established in Mexico who manages the Fundación Apoyo a Migrantes Venezolanos, which advises migrants on legal matters free of charge and in a personalized way. “When they arrive in Tapachula or another point in the south, they are given a migration form that supposedly allows them to stay in the country for seven days, 11 days if they have children. But that is not really valid because since January they have been requesting a visa from Venezuelans in Mexico, so later, if Immigration detains them, they tear up that paper and return them. Then they give them the official exit document, which forces them to leave through the southern border,” explains Rodríguez, that this Friday he was trying to get some migrants to move to the Secretariat of Inclusion and Welfare of Mexico City, where they should receive care. But only a handful of migrants accompanied her; most chose to stay at the station, waiting.
(From left to right) Leonel, 32, José, 29, Ruth, 33, and their children; they travel together from Venezuela to the city of Texas.
The reasons for the wait vary. Some await that announcement, promised by an unknown source, from the President of the United States; others hope to receive more money to buy the next bus ticket north. Others, under the increasingly attentive gaze of uniformed police, rush to buy it and get out of their reach, despite the around 3,000 pesos it costs. “They have raised it, because they know we are desperate,” some comment.
Throughout the journey, migrants have learned not to trust anyone, except those with whom they have traveled shoulder to shoulder, because sometimes they are family and at other times the experience has made them practically the same, they say. But right now they have to cling to something, so they hope that at least for them, those who are already on the road, they will open the door before closing it completely. “The worst thing is that those who are in the jungle now still don’t know what awaits them,” says a member of the Palmar Hernández clan, reflecting the general boredom.