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With the U.S. Asylum System Closed to Many, Some Find Sanctuary in Mexico

MEXICO CITY — Record numbers of asylum seekers are applying for sanctuary in Mexico — some after arriving at the southwest border of the United States hoping to find a safe haven under President Biden, but hitting a closed door.

In March, the Mexican government received asylum petitions from more than 9,000 people, the highest monthly tally ever, officials said. And they predicted that the surging demand, evident in recent month, would continue, possibly reaching a total of 90,000 asylum requests by the end of the year, which would also be an all-time high.

The soaring numbers of asylum petitions in Mexico are in part a reflection of the turmoil at the American border, where the Biden administration is struggling to deal with a surge in undocumented migration and has prevented many asylum seekers from presenting their cases to immigration officials.

Mexico has also become an increasingly attractive destination in its own right for refugees, who have generally found asylum easier to achieve in Mexico than in the United States. Some have also been drawn by the opportunity to reunite with family and friends, and by possibilities of work and a degree of safety that they lacked at home.

has become a more attractive destination for migrants.

Mr. Trump accelerated this process with aggressive efforts to restrict both legal and illegal immigration, including strategies to discourage asylum seekers by making it more difficult for them to secure sanctuary. Among those efforts was a widely criticized policy called Migration Protection Protocols, or M.P.P., that forced those seeking asylum in the United States to wait in Mexico while their cases were processed in American courts.

slowdown in global migration, the number of asylum petitioners dropped to about 41,200 last year. But in the past several months, the volume has risen sharply once again.

This spike has dovetailed with a surge of migrants to the southwest border of the United States driven in part by economic misery that has deepened during the pandemic, two devastating hurricanes that wrecked swaths of Central America and an abiding hope, sometimes fostered by smugglers, that the new administration in Washington would loosen restrictions at the border.

But many migrants and refugees have arrived in Mexico only to find that access to the United States is not as easy as they were led to believe.

are being detained, processed and released into the U.S.

But American officials have continued to use an emergency rule, implemented by the Trump administration, to rapidly expel single adults, who have made up the majority of those caught at the border. Migrants’ advocates say the use of the rule has blocked many asylum seekers from applying for sanctuary.

Once again a tent encampment has cropped up near an official crossing in Tijuana, sheltering migrants hoping for a chance to present their cases to the American authorities.

Fray Matías Human Rights Center, a migrants’ advocacy group in the southern city of Tapachula. “It’s not a second option.”

Some refugees inclined to stay in Mexico are seeking to reunify with relatives and friends who arrived earlier and put down roots, said Mr. Ramírez, director of the Mexican asylum agency, the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance, or Comar.

Some are also drawn by Mexico’s enormous demand for low-income labor, a need that the government has advertised.

“If they compare the type of life they have in their own countries, at the end of the day they have it better here,” in Mexico, Mr. Ramírez said.

And the country’s approval rate for asylum is high: During the first three months of this year it reached 73 percent, with another 7 percent receiving other sorts of humanitarian protection.

Hondurans — fleeing a toxic mixture of economic distress, government corruption and ineptitude, violence and natural disasters — have been far and away the single largest population of asylum seekers in Mexico since 2019. Approval rates for Honduran petitions concluded during the first three months of this year hit 86 percent.

“We don’t know if it’s their first or their second intention” to remain in Mexico, Mr. Ramírez said of asylum petitioners. “What we can tell you is that more and more people are coming to us.”

The historic number of people filing new asylum petitions in March came despite a decision by the Mexican government last month to close the nation’s southern border to nonessential traffic. The continuing flows of refugees arriving from the south has further exposed the extreme porousness of that border and, migration experts say, the weakness of Mexico’s immigration enforcement efforts.

“These are people who clearly don’t want to go back home,” said Cris Ramón, an immigration consultant based in Washington. “And they’re going to find a mechanism to stay in Mexico or in the United States.”

Oscar Lopez and Natalie Kitroeff contributed reporting

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Sharon Matola, Who Opened a Zoo in the Jungle of Belize, Dies at 66

Sharon Matola’s life changed in the summer of 1981, when she got a call from a British filmmaker named Richard Foster. She had recently quit her job as a lion tamer in a Mexican circus and was back home in Florida, where she was poking her way through a master’s degree in mycology, or the study of mushrooms.

Mr. Foster had heard of her skills with wild animals, and he wanted her to work with him on a nature documentary in Belize, the small, newly independent country on the Caribbean side of Central America, where he lived on a compound about 30 miles inland.

She arrived in the fall of 1981, but the money for Mr. Foster’s film soon ran out. He moved on to another project, in Borneo, leaving Ms. Matola in charge of a jaguar, two macaws, a 10-foot boa constrictor and 17 other half-tamed animals.

“I was at a crossroads,” she told The Washington Post in 1995. “I either had to shoot the animals or take care of them, because they couldn’t take care of themselves in the wild.”

campaign against a hydropower dam planned in western Belize, which she said would destroy animal habitats in the jungle and drive up energy costs.

The case ended up in British court and drew international support from groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council. Government officials denounced Ms. Matola as an interloper and, as one put it, an “enemy of the state.”

The dam’s developer won the case, but Ms. Matola was right: Today, energy costs in Belize are higher, and the area around the dam remains polluted. The case earned her awards and invitations to lecture across the United States, particularly after the journalist Bruce Barcott wrote about her in his book “The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw: One Woman’s Fight to Save the World’s Most Beautiful Bird” (2008).

Ms. Matola announced in 2017 that she was stepping back from her daily roles at the zoo, handing off responsibility to her all-Belizean staff. By then her arms were tattooed with scars from countless bites and scratches, her body worn down by bouts of malaria and screw worms. Not long afterward she developed sepsis in a cut on her leg, which left her hospitalized for long stretches.

None of that seemed to matter. She did not want to be anywhere else, she often said, and she would insist until her death that she was “one of the happiest people on earth.”

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How Debt and Climate Change Pose a ‘Systemic Risk to the Global Economy’

How does a country deal with climate disasters when it’s drowning in debt? Not very well, it turns out. Especially not when a global pandemic clobbers its economy.

Take Belize, Fiji and Mozambique. Vastly different countries, they are among dozens of nations at the crossroads of two mounting global crises that are drawing the attention of international financial institutions: climate change and debt.

They owe staggering amounts of money to various foreign lenders. They face staggering climate risks, too. And now, with the coronavirus pandemic pummeling their economies, there is a growing recognition that their debt obligations stand in the way of meeting the immediate needs of their people — not to mention the investments required to protect them from climate disasters.

The combination of debt, climate change and environmental degradation “represents a systemic risk to the global economy that may trigger a cycle that depresses revenues, increases spending and exacerbates climate and nature vulnerabilities,” according to a new assessment by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and others, which was seen by The Times. It comes after months of pressure from academics and advocates for lenders to address this problem.

downgraded its creditworthiness, making it tougher to get loans on the private market. The International Monetary Fund calls its debt levels “unsustainable.”

nearly $600 billion in debt service payments over the next five years. Both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are important lenders, but so are rich countries, as well as private banks and bondholders. The global financial system would face a huge problem if countries faced with shrinking economies defaulted on their debts.s

“We cannot walk head on, eyes wide open, into a debt crisis that is foreseeable and preventable,” the United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres, said last week as he called for debt relief for a broad range of countries. “Many developing countries face financing constraints that mean they cannot invest in recovery and resilience.”

The Biden administration, in an executive order on climate change, said it would use its voice in international financial institutions, like the World Bank, to align debt relief with the goals of the Paris climate agreement, though it hasn’t yet detailed what that means.

flurry of proposals from economists, advocates and others to address the problem. The details vary. But they all call, in one way or another, for rich countries and private creditors to offer debt relief, so countries can use those funds to transition away from fossil fuels, adapt to the effects of climate change, or obtain financial reward for the natural assets they already protect, like forests and wetlands. One widely circulated proposal calls on the Group of 20 (the world’s 20 biggest economies) to require lenders to offer relief “in exchange for a commitment to use some of the newfound fiscal space for a green and inclusive recovery.”

debts soared, including to China, and the country, whose very existence is threatened by sea level rise, pared back planned climate projects, according to research by the World Resources Institute.

The authors proposed what they called a climate-health-debt swap, where bilateral creditors, namely China, would forgive some of the debt in exchange for climate and health care investments. (China has said nothing publicly about the idea of debt swaps.)

sinking under huge debts, including secret loans that the government had not disclosed, when, in 2019, came back-to-back cyclones. They killed 1,000 people and left physical damages costing more than $870 million. Mozambique took on more loans to cope. Then came the pandemic. The I.M.F. says the country is in debt distress.

Six countries on the continent are in debt distress, and many more have seen their credit ratings downgraded by private ratings agencies. In March, finance ministers from across Africa said that many of their countries had spent a sizable chunk of their budgets already to deal with extreme weather events like droughts and floods, and some countries were spending a tenth of their budgets on climate adaptation efforts. “Our fiscal buffers are now truly depleted,” they wrote.

In developing countries, the share of government revenues that go into paying foreign debts nearly tripled to 17.4 percent between 2011 and 2020, an analysis by Eurodad, a debt relief advocacy group found.

Research suggests that climate risks have already made it more expensive for developing countries to borrow money. The problem is projected to get worse. A recent paper found climate change will raise the cost of borrowing for many more countries as early as 2030 unless efforts are made to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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‘We Are Doomed:’ Devastation from Storms Fuels Migration

Honduras has barely begun to recover from two hurricanes that hit late last year. With relatively little disaster relief from the U.S., many are heading for the border.


SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras — Children pry at the dirt with sticks, trying to dig out parts of homes that have sunk below ground. Their parents, unable to feed them, scavenge the rubble for remnants of roofs to sell for scrap metal. They live on top of the mud that swallowed fridges, stoves, beds — their entire lives buried beneath them.

“We are doomed here,” said Magdalena Flores, a mother of seven, standing on a mattress that peeked out from the dirt where her house used to be. “The desperation, the sadness, that’s what makes you migrate.”

People have long left Honduras for the United States, fleeing gang violence, economic misery and the indifference of a government run by a president accused of ties to drug traffickers.

hit a 15-year high, part of a sharp uptick since Mr. Biden took office.

welcoming policies on immigration have drawn people at a time when they are especially desperate to leave.

recently tapped Vice President Kamala Harris to work with Central American leaders to better conditions in those countries.

Still, Mr. Biden has sent a clear message to anyone considering crossing the border in the meantime: “Don’t come over,” Mr. Biden said in a recent interview.

The warning barely registers in parts of Honduras like Chamelecón, a sector of San Pedro Sula that is overrun by gangs and was pounded by both storms. Survivors of the disaster say they have no choice at all.

Months after the hurricanes, houses remain underwater. Gaping holes have replaced bridges. Thousands of people are still displaced, living in shelters or on the street. Hunger is stalking them.

pushed through nearly a billion dollars for the region in the late 1990s in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch, which killed more people but wrought a comparable level of damage as the recent storms, aid workers say.

Immediate humanitarian aid could certainly help alleviate hunger, homelessness and other crises spurred by the storms, as it seems to have done after Hurricane Mitch.

undermined efforts to change their economies enough to give the poor a reason to stay at home.

embezzled American aid money through sham nonprofits. Mr. Hernández, the nation’s leader since 2014, has denied the allegations and has not been charged. A spokesman did not provide comment.

“We need to be aggressively addressing the levels of despair that the folks hit by these storms are facing,” said Dan Restrepo, a former top adviser to President Obama. “We need to go big now and we need to be loud about it, because that starts actually factoring into the calculus that people face today, which is, ‘Can I survive here or not?’”

People smugglers are already taking advantage of Mr. Biden’s presence in the White House to win new customers. Moving swiftly and loudly, Mr. Biden undid many of the harsh immigration policies pioneered by his predecessor.

Human traffickers in Honduras are enticing clients by promising a much easier journey north, touting Mr. Biden’s refusal to immediately expel children at the border and making grand promises about how friendly the new administration will be, according to interviews with smugglers.

One trafficker outlined his latest pitch to Honduran families thinking about leaving: “They opened everything back up, now you can get in again,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the illegal nature of his work. “If they catch you, they send you to Mexico. It’s not like before, where they sent you back to your country.”

He added that since Mr. Biden’s inauguration, he had sneaked 75 people across the American border illegally.

“Because of the new president, they are opening more doors,” he said. “It’s a free market. That’s how we see it.”

But rather than point to Mr. Biden, many Hondurans first blurt out their own president’s name as a reason to leave home.

Mr. Hernández’s brother was recently sentenced to life in prison by an American court for trafficking cocaine into the United States. Prosecutors said the president provided protection to his brother and other traffickers in exchange for cash.

For many Hondurans, the past few months in particular have provided a searing case study in how little they seem to matter to their government.

Jesus Membreño’s house was sheared off the side of a mountain in the storms, but with nowhere else to go, he built a shelter over a piece of the cement floor that was left behind.

“We received nothing from the government, not even a sheet of metal to replace our roof,” Mr. Membreño said.

He said he would head north alone in the coming weeks.

Residents in Canaan, a section of the Chamelecón suburb that was flattened in the hurricanes, say the government never even sent any tractors to clear the mud. So Ms. Flores and her neighbors are trying to feed their children by carving off pieces of their ruined homes and selling them as scrap metal.

“It’s enough to buy some beans or rice,” she said, traipsing through mud punctuated by the tips of children’s bicycles and other rubble. “No one, not one politician or government, has helped us.”

The first time Ms. Flores tried to get to the United States was after her ex-husband broke into her house and slashed her face and arms with a machete, in 2016, she said. She never made it.

The second time was this January, she said, after living with her children under an improvised tent after the storms damaged her home. The few possessions she had spent years accumulating — her stove, her fridge, her beds, her television — were swallowed by mud.

“It’s the sadness, the disappointment that hits you,” Ms. Flores said, “It’s very hard to see your home buried. I had nothing left.”

With six of her children, she joined the first migrant caravan of this year, in January, she said. They walked for miles, but turned back after barely eating for days and then getting tear-gassed and beaten by the Guatemalan police. That’s when she stopped believing Mr. Biden was going to welcome anyone with open arms.

“If that were the case, why would they have sent me home?” she asked.

So Ms. Flores used parts of her old wooden house to build a shelter on top of the earth that devoured everything she had.

Now she’s waiting for the next caravan to leave, driven not by hope but by despair.

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Kamala Harris to Head Effort to Stanch Migrant Surge

President Biden has asked Vice President Kamala Harris to lead the administration’s diplomatic efforts with Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to stem the surge of migrants at the southern border.

“I can think of nobody who is better qualified,” Mr. Biden said Wednesday, citing Ms. Harris’s experience as California’s attorney general.

Ms. Harris, who didn’t yet have a formal policy portfolio, will be taking on a role similar to the one Mr. Biden played when he was vice president and led the Obama administration’s diplomatic efforts as it faced an increase in migrants and unaccompanied minors at the border.

“There’s no question that this is a challenging situation,” Ms. Harris said Wednesday.

“I look forward to engaging in diplomacy with government, with [the] private sector, with civil society and the leaders of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to strengthen democracy and the rule of law and ensure shared prosperity in the region,” she said.

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Senior U.S. Officials Visit Mexico, Guatemala to Address Migrant Surge

Senior White House officials are visiting Mexico and Guatemala this week in a bid to curtail a surge of migrants at the U.S. southern border that is raising pressure for the Biden administration to take more aggressive measures.

The high-level meetings to discuss migration and development in southern Mexico and Central America come as apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border are on pace to hit highs not seen in 20 years.

The Biden administration is now leaning more on Mexico’s authorities to turn migrants back before they can reach the U.S. border. The government of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced last week restrictions on nonessential travel across its border with Guatemala, a measure it said was to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.

But a parade conducted on Friday by hundreds of Mexican immigration agents and National Guard officers near Mexico’s southern border showed that the enforcement efforts were focused on stopping migrants from reaching the U.S. before they come close.

Mexico’s latest enforcement campaign comes as the Biden administration agreed to supply its southern neighbor with 2.7 million doses of AstraZeneca ’s Covid-19 vaccine, a request that represented a priority for the Mexican government, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said last week. “The U.S. also has common concerns with us,” he added, referring to migration.

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A Violent End to a Desperate Dream Leaves a Guatemalan Town Grieving

The trek from Central America to U.S. soil has always been perilous, but a massacre with many victims from one corner of Guatemala has shaken that country.


They leave behind homes, families, everything they have known, taking their chances on a dangerous trek north toward an uncertain future, driven by poverty, lack of opportunity and the hope of something better.

For most migrants who leave Central America, like those from the municipality of Comitancillo, in the mountains of western Guatemala, the goal is to reach the United States, find work, save some money and send some back home, put down roots, maybe even find love and start a family. Usually, the biggest obstacle is crossing the increasingly fortified American border without being caught.

A group of 13 migrants who left Comitancillo in January didn’t even get the chance. Their bodies were found, along with those of six other victims, shot and burned; the corpses were piled in the back of a pickup truck that had been set on fire and abandoned in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, just shy of the U.S. border. A dozen state police officers have been arrested in connection with the massacre.

The migrants’ remains made the return trip on Friday, March 12, each in a coffin draped with the Guatemalan flag, flown to a military airport in Guatemala City. A somber repatriation ceremony there, with an address by President Alejandro Giammattei, was shown live on national television. Relatives, friends and neighbors in Comitancillo watched the broadcast in their homes as they made final preparations for the arrival of the bodies and for the wakes and burials to follow.

a raid on the factory where he worked. He was held in detention for most of a year, trying to fight deportation.

He stayed in touch with Reverend Medina. “He was always trying to organize groups to pray and have faith and keep strong,” the priest recalled.

Mr. López finally lost his legal battle, however, and was deported to Guatemala in 2020, Reverend Medina said. Desperately missing his family, he decided in January to try his luck again and migrate north for a third time, the reverend said.

Last Saturday, relatives attended a wake for Mr. López in his parents’ home. The funeral service was held in a church in the village of Chicajalaj, the construction of which he had helped fund by raising money among the Guatemalan diaspora in Mississippi.

Above, relatives held wake for Mr. López. During a procession, below, carrying Mr. López’s remains to the church and then to a cemetery, his cousin, Sebastián López, 75, clutched a framed portrait of his dead relative.

Mr. López’s daughter, Evelin López, left a can of Coca-Cola, a favorite drink of his, as a tribute inside his tomb. It was her first trip to Guatemala.

In the home of Santa Cristina García Pérez, 20, another massacre victim, family members had adorned an altar with framed photos, flowers and a bottle of water — so that Ms. García’s spirit did not suffer from thirst on its journey to the next life, her father, Ricardo García Pérez, explained.

Before she migrated, Mr. García said, his daughter had been living for three years in the city of Zacapa, on the other side of the country, holding a series of low-paying jobs, including as a house cleaner and as a saleswoman in stores.

One of 11 siblings, Ms. García hoped to make enough money in the United States to cover the cost of an operation for her one-year-old sister, Angela Idalia, who was born with a cleft lip, her father said.

She wanted to save Ángela Idalia from what she thought would be a life of ridicule, relatives said.

Ms. García had hoped to make it to Miami, where a friend was living, “but unfortunately her life was cut short on the way,” her father said.

“The saddest thing in life,” he continued. “There’s no explanation.”

Relatives gathered at the mass for Ms. García and two other victims, Iván Gudiel Pablo Tomás and Rivaldo Danilo Jiménez, all of them from the village of Tuilelén.

Below, Ricardo García Pérez and Olga Pérez Guzmán de García, Ms. García’s parents, during her wake.

The killings have stunned the community, spurred a wave of international media attention on Comitancillo and an outpouring of financial support for the victim’s families. Among other acts of largess, donations from nearby communities in the region and from the Guatemalan diaspora have paid for Ángela Idalia’s first surgery to repair her cleft lip and have enabled the García family to build a new house.

Yet local residents predict that despite the massacre, migration from Comitancillo to the United States will not ebb.

Residents said that President Biden’s election and his promise of a more humane approach to migration policy had inspired many young Comitecos to set off for the United States in the past few months. Many others are thinking about leaving soon, residents said.

The options for employment in Guatemala are too scarce, Ms. Aguilón said, and the lure of possibility in the United States too great.

“For us, it was a very big blow,” she said of the massacre. “But this won’t prevent the people from migrating.”

Relatives and neighbors attending the funeral of Ms. García, Mr. Pablo and Mr. Jiménez.

Mr. Jiménez’s coffin being carried to Tuilelén cemetery, above, and friends and relatives carrying the coffin of Mr. Pablo.

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US to Send Millions of Covid-19 Vaccine Doses to Mexico and Canada

The United States plans to send millions of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Mexico and Canada, the White House said Thursday, a notable step into vaccine diplomacy just as the Biden administration is quietly pressing Mexico to curb the stream of migrants coming to the border.

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said the United States was planning to share 2.5 million doses of the vaccine with Mexico and 1.5 million with Canada, adding that it was “not finalized yet, but that is our aim.”

Tens of millions of doses of the vaccine have been sitting in American manufacturing sites. But while their use has already been authorized in dozens of countries, the vaccine has not yet been approved by American regulators.

Several European countries suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine this week, a precaution because some people who had received the shot later developed blood clots and severe bleeding. But on Thursday, Europe’s drug regulator declared the vaccine safe. AstraZeneca has also said that a review of 17 million people who received the vaccine found they were less likely than others to develop dangerous clots.

halting construction of a border wall, stopping the swift expulsion of children at the border and proposing a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants in the United States.

But he is clinging to a central element of Mr. Trump’s agenda: relying on Mexico to restrain a wave of people making their way to the United States.

Anticipating a surge of migrants and the most apprehensions by American agents at the border in two decades, Mr. Biden asked President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico in a video call this month whether more could be done to help solve the problem, according to Mexican officials and another person briefed on the conversation.

The two presidents also discussed the possibility of the United States sending Mexico some of its surplus vaccine supply, a senior Mexican official said. Mexico has publicly asked the Biden administration to send it doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

At a news briefing on Thursday, Ms. Psaki said that the discussions over vaccines and border security between the United States and Mexico were “unrelated” but also “overlapping.”

one of the world’s deadliest coronavirus epidemics, would be buoyed by a shipment of doses south.

“Both governments cooperate on the basis of an orderly, safe and regular migration system,” Roberto Velasco, director general for the North America region at Mexico’s foreign ministry, said in a statement, referring to the engagement between the two countries on migration and vaccines.

But he said there was no quid pro quo for vaccines: “These are two separate issues, as we look for a more humane migratory system and enhanced cooperation against COVID-19, for the benefit of our two countries and the region.”

wielded the threat of tariffs against all Mexican goods unless migration was curbed — may have flagged in the waning months of the Trump administration.

From October through December of last year, the number of Central Americans apprehended by Mexico declined, while detentions by American agents increased, according to Mexican government numbers and data compiled by The Washington Office on Latin America, a research organization that advocates for human rights.

“The likelihood of the outgoing Trump administration threatening tariffs again was low, so there was an incentive for Mexico to go back to its default state of low apprehensions,” said Adam Isacson, an expert on border security at The Washington Office on Latin America.

The Biden administration’s appeal to do more against migration has put Mexico in a difficult position. While Mr. Trump strong-armed Mexico into militarizing the border, some Mexican officials argue that his harsh policies may have at times helped lessen their load by deterring migrants from attempting to make the journey north.

signaling that the United States is more welcoming to migrants.

Tuesday statement, the secretary for homeland security, Alejandro Mayorkas, said he was “working with Mexico to increase its capacity to receive expelled families.”

A Mexican law that went into effect in January prohibits the authorities from holding migrant families and children in detention centers, and the lack of space in shelters has become a major problem.

“Shelters are at a near collapse,” said Enrique Valenzuela, a lead coordinator for the government of Chihuahua state’s migration efforts.

Local officials in Chihuahua and shelter operators say that coordination has broken down between Mexican and American authorities. During the last years of the Trump administration, American officials would notify their Mexican counterparts before expelling migrants across the border and would orchestrate the crossings at a handful of well-staffed border checkpoints, they say.

Under the Biden administration, they say, Customs and Border Protection agents now deposit migrants at some of the most obscure, understaffed checkpoints, leaving their Mexican counterparts scrambling when they discover dozens of migrants walking in from the United States.

Local government officials in Ciudad Juárez and shelter operators say Mexico is dialing up operations to capture and deport migrants along the northern border. On a near daily basis, two of them said, Mexican authorities are stopping vans stuffed with families and pickup trucks carrying livestock — along with migrants crouching on the floor to avoid detection.

Part of the reason Mexico is willing to continue cracking down is that, despite being a country that has long sent people north, there is a lot of resentment toward Central American migrants.

“The level of negative attitudes that we have toward migrant flows has gone up, so there won’t be a political cost” for Mr. López Obrador, said Tonatiuh Guillén, who ran Mexico’s National Migration Institute in the first half of 2019. “But with Trump, we negotiated nothing — we gave them a lot and they didn’t give us anything back,” he added, arguing that the strategy should be different with Mr. Biden.

Despite the very public tensions with Mexico under Mr. Trump, Mr. López Obrador has been wary of the Biden administration, concerned that it might be more willing to interfere on domestic issues like labor rights or the environment.

Instead, several Mexican officials say, his government has pushed the United States to deter Central Americans from migrating by sending humanitarian aid to Honduras and Guatemala in the wake of two hurricanes that devastated those countries and, many experts believe, pushed even more people to migrate.

Mexican officials have also asked the United States to send more Hondurans and Guatemalans apprehended in the United States directly to their home countries, rather than releasing them to Mexico, making it even harder for them to try to cross the border again.

While the negotiations over migration may be on a separate track from Mexico’s request for surplus vaccines from the United States, the need for them in Mexico is clear.

About 200,000 people have died in Mexico from the virus — the third highest death toll in the world — and the country has been relatively slow to vaccinate its population. That poses a potential political risk for Mr. López Obrador, whose party is heading into crucial elections in June that will determine whether the president hangs onto control of the legislature.

“Mexico needs cooperation from the U.S. in getting its economy jump-started and getting vaccines to get out of the health crisis,” said Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute in Washington. “So there’s room for the two countries to reach agreements based on aligned interests rather than overt threats.”

Michael D. Shear, Jim Tankersley and Ian Austen contributed reporting from Washington, D.C.

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Biden Urges Mexico to Do More to Stop Migration

MEXICO CITY — The Biden administration has been quietly pressing Mexico to curb the stream of migrants coming to the United States, urging it to take in more families being expelled by American authorities and to step up enforcement at its southern border with Guatemala, according to Mexican officials and others briefed on the discussions.

President Biden has moved quickly to dismantle some of former President Trump’s signature immigration policies, halting construction of a border wall, stopping the swift expulsion of children at the border and proposing a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants in the United States.

But he is clinging to a central element of Mr. Trump’s agenda: relying on Mexico to restrain a wave of people making their way to the United States.

Anticipating a surge of migrants and the most apprehensions by American agents at the border in two decades, Mr. Biden asked President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico in a video call this month whether more could be done to help solve the problem, according to Mexican officials and another person briefed on the conversation.

one of the world’s deadliest coronavirus epidemics, would be buoyed by a shipment of doses south.

“Both governments cooperate on the basis of an orderly, safe and regular migration system,” Roberto Velasco, director general for the North America region at Mexico’s foreign ministry, said in a statement, referring to the engagement between the two countries on migration and vaccines.

But he said there was no quid pro quo for vaccines: “These are two separate issues, as we look for a more humane migratory system and enhanced cooperation against COVID-19, for the benefit of our two countries and the region.”

wielded the threat of tariffs against all Mexican goods unless migration was curbed — may have flagged in the waning months of the Trump administration.

From October through December of last year, the number of Central Americans apprehended by Mexico declined, while detentions by American agents increased, according to Mexican government numbers and data compiled by The Washington Office on Latin America, a research organization that advocates for human rights.

“The likelihood of the outgoing Trump administration threatening tariffs again was low, so there was an incentive for Mexico to go back to its default state of low apprehensions,” said Adam Isacson, an expert on border security at The Washington Office on Latin America.

The Biden administration’s appeal to do more against migration has put Mexico in a difficult position. While Mr. Trump strong-armed Mexico into militarizing the border, some Mexican officials argue that his harsh policies may have at times helped lessen their load by deterring migrants from attempting to make the journey north.

signaling that the United States is more welcoming to migrants.

“They get to look like the good guys and the Mexicans look like the bad guys,” said Cris Ramón, an immigration consultant based in Washington, D.C.

“All the positive humanitarian policies are being done by the Biden administration. ” Mr. Ramón added, “and then the Mexicans are left with the dirty work.”

Mr. López Obrador is also trying to find a way of increasing capacity to house migrants in shelters, which are bursting at the seams. In a Tuesday statement, the secretary for homeland security, Alejandro Mayorkas, said he was “working with Mexico to increase its capacity to receive expelled families.”

A Mexican law that went into effect in January prohibits the authorities from holding migrant families and children in detention centers, and the lack of space in shelters has become a major problem.

“Shelters are at a near collapse,” said Enrique Valenzuela, a lead coordinator for the government of Chihuahua state’s migration efforts.

Local officials in Chihuahua and shelter operators say that coordination has broken down between Mexican and American authorities. During the last years of the Trump administration, American officials would notify their Mexican counterparts before expelling migrants across the border and would orchestrate the crossings at a handful of well-staffed border checkpoints, they say.

Under the Biden administration, they say, Customs and Border Patrol agents now deposit migrants at some of the most obscure, understaffed checkpoints, leaving their Mexican counterparts scrambling when they discover dozens of migrants walking in from the United States.

Local government officials in Ciudad Juárez and shelter operators say Mexico is dialing up operations to capture and deport migrants along the northern border. On a near daily basis, two of them said, Mexican authorities are stopping vans stuffed with families and pickup trucks carrying livestock — along with migrants crouching on the floor to avoid detection.

Part of the reason Mexico is willing to continue cracking down is that, despite being a country that has long sent people north, there is a lot of resentment toward Central American migrants.

“The level of negative attitudes that we have toward migrant flows has gone up, so there won’t be a political cost” for Mr. López Obrador, said Tonatiuh Guillén, who ran Mexico’s National Migration Institute in the first half of 2019. “But with Trump, we negotiated nothing — we gave them a lot and they didn’t give us anything back,” he added, arguing that the strategy should be different with Mr. Biden.

Despite the very public tensions with Mexico under Mr. Trump, Mr. López Obrador has been wary of the Biden administration, concerned that it might be more willing to interfere on domestic issues like labor rights or the environment.

Instead, several Mexican officials say, his government has pushed the United States to deter Central Americans from migrating by sending humanitarian aid to Honduras and Guatemala in the wake of two hurricanes that devastated those countries and, many experts believe, pushed even more people to migrate.

Mexican officials have also asked the United States to send more Hondurans and Guatemalans apprehended in the United States directly to their home countries, rather than releasing them to Mexico, making it even harder for them to try to cross the border again.

While the negotiations over migration may be on a separate track from Mexico’s request for surplus vaccines from the United States, the need for them in Mexico is clear.

About 200,000 people have died in Mexico from the virus — the third highest death toll in the world — and the country has been relatively slow to vaccinate its population. That poses a potential political risk for Mr. López Obrador, whose party is heading into crucial elections in June that will determine whether the president hangs onto control of the legislature.

“Mexico needs cooperation from the U.S. in getting its economy jump-started and getting vaccines to get out of the health crisis,” said Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute in Washington. “So there’s room for the two countries to reach agreements based on aligned interests rather than overt threats.”

Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Michael D. Shear contributed reporting from Washington, D.C.

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