- Advertisement -

US explores refugee programme for non-Mexican asylum seekers in Mexico

The programme will likely be open to Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan and Venezuelan refugees in Mexico, sources say.

3 minute read
A man walks along the sidewalk with an ice cream in his hand as high temperatures continue, in Monterrey, Mexico June 28. Photo: Reuters
A man walks along the sidewalk with an ice cream in his hand as high temperatures continue, in Monterrey, Mexico June 28. Photo: Reuters

US and Mexican officials are discussing a new US refugee programme for some non-Mexican asylum seekers waiting in Mexico, four sources said, part of President Joe Biden's attempts to create more legal avenues for migration.

The programme would likely be open to Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan and Venezuelan refugees in Mexico, the sources said. Migrants would need to show they were in Mexico before June 6 to qualify, one of the sources said.

The sources - a US official, a Mexican official and two people familiar with the matter who all spoke on condition of anonymity - stressed that the issue remained under discussion and no final decisions had been made. It was not clear how many people might benefit from such a programme.

Hundreds of thousands of migrants from those four nations have passed through Mexico en route to the US during political and economic upheaval in recent years, straining resources in both countries and putting political pressure on Biden, a Democrat seeking reelection in 2024.

The plan under discussion would allow qualifying migrants approved for refugee status to enter via the US refugee resettlement programme, which is only available to applicants abroad, the sources said. Unlike most migrants who claim asylum after entering the US, refugees receive immediate work authorisation and government benefits such as housing and employment assistance.

Refugees using the US resettlement programme can apply to become permanent residents within one year, offering more stability than other options. To be approved, they must establish that they face persecution due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.

In a statement, Mexico's foreign ministry said it is in constant communication with the US about expanding labour mobility and refugee protections. To that end, it said it had held discussions over various programmes and policies, while always safeguarding national sovereignty.

However, Mexico has not reached any agreement with the US, the ministry added.

Broader Biden migrant strategy

The Biden administration has opened up new ways for migrants to enter the US legally as part of a broader strategy to discourage people from crossing the US-Mexico border illegally.

Migrants waiting in Mexico can apply for US entry on a smartphone app and later request asylum, but slots on the app fill up quickly. Under another Biden programme, Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans can request to enter the US by air if they have US sponsors.

But those routes do not provide the same benefits available to refugees or a direct path to permanent residence and eventual citizenship.

In April, the Biden administration said it aimed to admit 40,000 refugees from Latin America and the Caribbean in fiscal years 2023 and 2024, doubling a previous target. As of May 31, about 3,400 had arrived, showing that the pace would need to greatly accelerate to reach the goal.

Some refugee backers are concerned the focus on Latin America could slow processing from other parts of the world, including of refugees already waiting for approval.

The initiative under discussion would be a "Priority Two" refugee programme, the sources said, similar to one opened for Afghans in 2021. Such programmes allow certain groups of people to apply for refugee status directly without needing a referral from the United Nations.

Despite the discussions, Mexico has significant concerns, the Mexican official said.

If the programme encourages more migrants to enter Mexico, it could tax the country's already-strained resources for dealing with migrants, the official said.

One significant concern for Mexico is where the migrants would be processed, the official said.

If the US used its existing consular facilities, the plan could work, but any new US centre in Mexico for the purpose would be politically fraught, the official added.

Pending decisions will also require the participation of Mexico’s incoming foreign minister Alicia Barcena, who is yet to be confirmed to the post, the official said.

Follow us on WhatsApp & Telegram

Get exclusive insights into Malaysia's latest news.

Subscribe to our newsletter

To be updated with all the latest news and analyses daily.