Authorities vigilant as Mexican families camp at foot of El Paso bridge

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Families flee drug violence, come to Juarez hoping for asylum in U.S.

JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) — A woman and her child scrambled back to the sidewalk as a bus pulled into a side street leading to the Paso del Norte Bridge. The mother and daughter squeezed into a tight space, because almost 100 men, women and children had already staked out a piece of sidewalk.

“We came here because we are not safe in our homes anymore. We had to leave because of all the murders and kidnappings,” said Hermelinda Aguero Lopez, who left Zacatecas, Mexico a few days ago with 16 members of her family. Her hope in coming to Juarez is to apply for asylum in the United States.

Several of the 30 or so families from the Mexican states of Michoacan, Guerrero, Chiapas and Zacatecas that have been camped near the foot of the bridge since Monday shared similar stories of fear. Their presence is not only drawing curious stares from passersby but has authorities on both sides of the border on alert.

Officers inside a Mexican federal police truck parked on the Mexican side of the bridge monitored the situation. U.S. Customs and Border Protection also knew of the large gathering of people on the Mexican side. “At this time CBP has no credible information suggesting a pending threat to CBP facilities or the orderly processing of legitimate trade and travel. We remain vigilant,” said CBP spokesman Roger Maier.

Mexican officials say they can’t move the migrants from the foot of the bridge if they’re not engaged in any wrongdoing.

“We cannot impede the free transit of Mexican citizens in their own country, but we urge them to be well-informed and make sure they and their children are safe in Downtown Juarez,” said Enrique Valenzuela, head of the Chihuahua state Population Council.

Valenzuela said Mexicans cannot be placed on the asylum waiting list that the Council manages for CBP because they’re free to move about in their own country. Their asylum applications can be made directly to the U.S. government, although if CBP is swamped with other seekers, the Mexicans will be told to come back later, Valenzuela said.

As Border Report reported last month, the number of Mexican asylum seekers has spiked as the Central American and Cuban surge fizzles on this part of the border. The Mexicans come mostly from West-Central states where the Jalisco New Generation cartel and other drug-trafficking organizations are warring. The Texas-based Stratfor Security group calls it the “Tierra Caliente” region of Mexico.

“I hope they give us political asylum because of all the deaths and shootings. We have not been harmed, but we see what happens every day to friends and neighbors. There’s too much crime and not enough jobs,” said Gabriela Rios, who came to Juarez with her husband and children.

“We are fleeing the violence in Zacatecas. We are afraid for our children. There are murders every day; very often they find dead bodies by the side of the road. You can’t even go to work for fear that something bad will happen,” said a woman who declined to give her name. “I work in a restaurant and even at home I don’t feel safe. You cannot go out of your home at night because (criminals) are roaming the streets.”

The woman came to Juarez with her husband and four children ages 17, 14, 13 and 9.

Another woman, who consented to an interview on the condition that her face not be shown on video, said some of her cousins and uncles have been murdered by drug traffickers.

“They were asking them for money and trying to force them to work for them. … We are all in danger. We have been here for several days but no one wants to help us get asylum.”

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