JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) — Before taking them to a government shelter, Mexican police told migrant parents they could face criminal charges for exposing children to near-freezing temperatures at makeshift camps south of two U.S. ports of entry.
Tuesday afternoon’s warning broke the resolve of the last Mexican asylum seekers, who had held out for more than three months staying in tents along sidewalks for fear of losing their place in line to apply for asylum in the United States. It also angered migrant advocates across the Rio Grande in El Paso, Texas, who pointed out the action came days before the president of Mexico visits Juarez.
“Clearing migrants off the streets just before the president’s visit is inhumane. It violates any precept of protection for their rights,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights. “The migrants didn’t want to move from the bridges so as to not lose the opportunity to apply for asylum. … There was a list everybody was watching so others would not cut in line. Surely that list is moot now.”
The evacuation of the camps, conducted by municipal, state and federal employees, stemmed from a verbal complaint on the part of DIF, Juarez’s municipal child protection agency, said Alejandro Rubalcava, a spokesman for the Chihuahua state attorney general’s office.
“State officers went to the camps and told the adults to take their children to shelters so as to not expose them to cold temperatures, otherwise, they could be guilty of omission of care,” Rubalcava said. “It was a dialogue and (the migrants) decided to go to shelters.”
A KTSM video shot late Tuesday afternoon shows migrants picking up their belongings from sidewalks and loading them onto orange-colored Grupo Beta (Mexico’s equivalent of the U.S. Border Patrol) trucks.
City officials said a total of 93 adults and children were taken to shelters. State, federal and city officials consulted by Border Report on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning denied the timing of the evacuation was related to President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s visit on Friday.
“The information we have is that (state) officers went there to let them know that omission of care is a crime, especially when it involves children,” Juarez Mayor Armando Cabada said. “There were very few families left and they convinced them to go to a shelter. But it wasn’t a removal action or (a threat). It was nothing like that.”
In December, overnight temperatures dropped well below freezing several times in the El Paso-Juarez region and it rained at least twice. Back then, officials in Juarez told Border Report they could not remove the migrants because they were Mexican citizens and had a right-of-way.
From October 2018 to June of last year, tens of thousands of Central American, Cuban and other migrants made their way to the border in hopes of obtaining asylum in the United States, primarily due to violence in their communities. After the Trump administration strong-armed Mexico into cracking down on migrant caravans from Central America, then it was Mexican nationals fleeing drug cartel wars who started showing up at the border in hopes of getting asylum in America.
On Wednesday, Cabada said the right-of-way law remains in place for Mexicans. “If they come back, it’s their right. No law forbids that … unless there is a complaint about omission of care,” the mayor said. “In that case, the state will have to take action.”
The largest migrant camp in Juarez, one located at the Mexican Chamizal Park, was abandoned just before New Year’s Day. Migrants there decided to go back home, go to shelters or try to cross the Rio Grande into the United States illegally, Juarez officials said.