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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Entitled to Vaccines, Undocumented Immigrants in U.K. Struggle for Access

LONDON — In early February, the government of Britain announced that every person living in the country would be eligible for a coronavirus vaccine, free of charge, regardless of their immigration status. Public health experts praised the decision, necessary to ensure the safety of everyone, while others raised alarms at the prospect of noncitizens jumping ahead of eligible Britons.

“No one will get their vaccination out of turn,” Edward Argar, a British health minister, said in an interview. The disease, he added, is “looking for victims, it’s not worried about immigration status.”

As in much of the world, the virus has ravaged immigrant communities in Britain, many of which supply the bulk of frontline workers in grocery stores and domestic care. Many immigrants also live in crowded, multigenerational housing that exposed older family members throughout the pandemic. The government’s so-called vaccine amnesty was designed to encourage even those without legal status to come forward and get vaccinated.

But more than a month after the announcement, many undocumented immigrants said they remained fearful that asking for a vaccine would risk arrest or deportation. Others said they had been denied registration at local doctors’ offices, which often ask for identification or proof of address — although neither is required to access primary care.

hostile environment” policy that aimed to force those without legal status to leave the country by blocking their access to jobs, bank accounts and free medical care.

“It’s all very well to say, ‘Anyone can get a vaccine,’” said Phil Murwill, the head of services at Doctors of the World U.K. “But for years there was a deliberate policy of creating a hostile environment for undocumented immigrants that has put people off from accessing any kind of care. And we’re seeing that play out now.”

Outside estimates put the number of undocumented immigrants in Britain somewhere between 800,000 and 1.2 million, or just under 2 percent of the population. (The British government has not estimated the size of this population since 2005, when it was said to be 430,000.) It is a significant group that includes many at-risk workers, and one that epidemiologists say the vaccination campaign — which has so far given nearly half the population at least one dose — must reach if Britain hopes to safely exit the pandemic.

This month, Ghie Ghie and Weng, two undocumented domestic workers from the Philippines, walked arm in arm to the Science Museum in London, one of more than the 1,500 vaccination sites across the country. (Like other undocumented people interviewed for this article, the women asked to be identified only by their first names for fear of arrest.) Ghie Ghie had gotten her first shot of the vaccine the previous weekend and was hoping Weng could get hers.

booked an appointment online under the category of health and social care workers, which the government defined as “doctors, nurses, midwives, paramedics, social workers, care workers, and other frontline health and social care staff.” (As of last week, those age 50 and older are now eligible in England.)

prioritize vaccinating those in jobs done primarily by undocumented immigrants, like farm work. But Britain did not extend the social care worker category to include domestic workers, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson confirmed in an email.

“We are caring for children and elderly and the disabled,” said Marissa Begonia, founder of the Voice of Domestic Workers. “It’s not a lie. By our definition, we are social care workers.”

Weng works part time for two families, traveling between the households each week. “I want to get my vaccine in case the government asks, so that I can show I am not putting anyone at risk,” she said as she waited in line at the vaccine center. She re-emerged about 30 minutes later, proudly clutching the card showing she’d received the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

In 2018, the Home Office, the government ministry in charge of immigration, officially withdrew a data-sharing agreement that used patient information from the National Health Service to track down people thought to be violating immigration rules. (Data sharing still exists for deportation cases involving serious crimes.) The Department of Health and Social Care has said that anyone undergoing vaccination, testing or treatment for the coronavirus would not be subject to immigration status checks.

two agencies share patient information, most commonly in cases of undocumented immigrants with an unpaid medical debt of 500 pounds (around $690) for more than two months. Primary care, including treatment by a family doctor, is free whereas secondary care — hospital visits, surgeries, maternal care — is not.

Those working on behalf of undocumented immigrants say that this hybrid health care system only adds to the confusion about what benefits undocumented immigrants are entitled to. “The government needs to suspend all charging and data sharing operations if they want to prioritize the widest possible access to public health,” said Zoe Gardner, a policy adviser for the Joint Council for The Welfare of Immigrants.

When Huseyin, a 30-year-old undocumented chef, found out that he could see a family doctor for free — and eventually be called for a vaccine — he said he immediately tried to register. That was three months ago.

He said a family clinic in London had asked for a valid passport or ID before turning him away. A few weeks later, he moved to Brighton, England, for a full-time job at a restaurant. He tried again with a local doctor there but was told — incorrectly — that he needed an N.H.S. number to register with them.

“N.H.S. guidance says nothing about documentation, but nobody teaches you when you’re in medical school about a patient’s right to access a G.P.,” said Dr. Elizabeth Bates, an associate general practitioner in the West Midlands. “That the N.H.S. is for everybody is something many British people are very intrinsically proud of, but even some doctors don’t understand that their practice may have these policies that prevent people from registering.”

Huseyin is now getting registration help from Doctors of the World U.K., a nonprofit that works to ensure access to health care for those with unclear immigration status. He’s young, though, and is unlikely to be called for a vaccine for months.

“I want the vaccine to protect myself and my community,” he said. “We are everywhere — the corner shops, restaurants, factories, hotels. Undocumented people are everywhere.”

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Police Find 16 People Hidden in a Truck in England

LONDON — The authorities in Britain have arrested a Turkish truck driver on suspicion of attempting to smuggle people to France from England after discovering 16 people in the trailer of his vehicle.

The 36-year-old driver, who was not identified, was stopped on Sunday at a junction on the M25 highway southwest of London, the National Crime Agency said in a statement. The people who were discovered, including Algerian, Moroccan and Pakistani citizens, were also arrested on suspicion of immigration offenses.

Although there were no deaths, the case had echoes of a fatal episode of smuggling from 2019, when 39 people from Vietnam died in a refrigerated tractor-trailer in southeastern England. The people-smuggling trade is a huge and dangerous market, with people fleeing conflict and poverty across Africa and Asia forced to pay thousands of dollars to smugglers in return for shaky promises of transport across borders to Western Europe.

In the National Crime Agency statement, Chris Hill, a branch operations manager, said, “People-smuggling networks move migrants in both directions across the border, threatening the security of both the U.K. and our European neighbors, but also putting lives at risk.”

agreed to double the number of officers patrolling a 93-mile stretch of the French coast that the countries said was regularly used by smugglers.

The United Nations’ refugee agency has pressed the national authorities to combat the smuggling rings but has also expressed concern at proposals to intercept boats in the English Channel, noting that deploying vessels to “block small, flimsy dinghies may result in harmful and fatal incidents.”

While increasing numbers of people tried to cross the English Channel illegally by boat last summer, the U.N. agency noted in a briefing in August that “the numbers remain low and manageable,” adding that many took on the risky journeys to flee war and persecution. “Saving lives should be the first priority — both on land and at sea,” the agency said.

This month, Britain and France said that they had cooperated in the dismantling of a gang suspected of buying secondhand boats that were deflated and then buried on French beaches for later use in smuggling people across the English Channel. Each boat could carry 10 to 15 migrants, who would be charged 2,500 to 3,000 euros, or $3,000 to $3,600, apiece for the journey, the National Crime Agency said.

The British immigration authorities made 418 arrests and secured 203 convictions in 2019, the Home Office said, with about half of those convicted found guilty of people-smuggling offenses.

Chris Philp, the British minister for immigration compliance, said, “These dangerous crossings are facilitated by serious organized criminals exploiting people and profiting from human misery.”

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The Democrats’ Immigration Problem

For most of the past few decades, the Democratic Party had a pretty clear stance on immigration. It favored a mix of enforcement (like border security and the deportation of undocumented immigrants who committed serious crimes) and new pro-immigrant laws (like an increase in legal immigration and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented people).

In recent years, however, a growing number of immigration advocates and progressive Democrats have become dissatisfied with this combination. They have pointed out that Democrats’ support for tighter border security has not led to the bipartisan compromise that it was supposed to: Republicans continue to block bills that offer a pathway to citizenship.

In response, these progressives and activists have pushed the party to change. Bill Clinton ran for re-election on a platform that said, “We cannot tolerate illegal immigration and we must stop it.” Barack Obama once said, “We simply cannot allow people to pour into the United States undetected, undocumented, unchecked.” President Biden has instead emphasized the humane treatment of immigrants, regardless of their legal status.

After taking office, Biden began putting this idea into action. He announced a 100-day halt on deportations (which a judge has blocked). He allowed more migrants — especially children — to enter the country, rather than being detained. And Central American migrants, sensing that the U.S. has become more welcoming, are streaming north in the largest numbers in two decades.

Doris Meissner of the Migration Policy Institute, who ran the Immigration and Naturalization Service in the 1990s, told me. Republicans have pounced, accusing Democrats of favoring an “open border.”

Some Democrats are unhappy, too. Biden’s policy “incentivizes droves of people to come, and the only way to slow it down is by changing policy at our doorstep,” Representative Vicente Gonzalez of Texas told The Washington Post. Henry Cuellar, another House Democrat from Texas, said the administration was sending “a terrible message.”

It all stems from the fact that the Democratic Party no longer has a clear policy on immigration.

While Donald Trump was president, he smoothed over the Democrats’ internal tensions because they could unite in opposition to him. Trump used racist language; Democrats abhorred it. Trump separated families and locked children in cages; Democrats promised to end those policies. Trump said he would build a border wall, paid for by Mexico; Democrats mocked his failure.

With Trump out of office, however, the party faces some hard, unresolved questions, including:

Do Democrats still favor the deportation of anyone? Some activists criticized Obama as the “deporter in chief.” But he focused deportations on only two groups: recent arrivals and immigrants who committed serious crimes.

If Democrats prefer a more lenient policy than Obama’s, it isn’t clear whether they support the deportation of anybody — or whether they instead believe that the humane solution is to allow everybody who manages to enter the U.S., legally or illegally, to remain. The party’s 2020 platform doesn’t mention any conditions in which deportation is acceptable. Biden’s attempt to halt deportations for 100 days highlights the party’s new attitude.

detaining children is fraught, and many Democrats consider the jailing of any immigrants akin to Trumpism.

A third option is to admit migrants and order them to appear at a future legal hearing (as is happening with many children and families). The adults must often wear ankle bracelets. Still, the process can take years and raises other thorny issues. Many migrants are not good asylum candidates; they are coming to find work or to be near relatives, neither of which necessarily qualifies them for legal entry.

Often, the administration will still be left to decide whom it is willing to deport.

increase legal immigration. It could build more detention facilities with humane conditions. It could do more to improve conditions in Latin America and to push Mexico to control its own southern border. The Biden administration is pursuing many of these policies.

But if Biden and his aides appear to be less steady on immigration than many other policy areas, there is a reason for that: They are less steady.

Congress appears unlikely to increase legal immigration levels by much. And polls show that while public opinion favors a pathway to citizenship for many undocumented immigrants, it also favors rigorous border security and the enforcement of existing immigration laws.

I’m not even sure that these views should be described as conservative. Historically, many progressives supported immigration restrictions as a way to keep U.S. wages high. Today, working-class Americans — including many Asian-American, Black and Latino voters — tend to favor more restrictions than progressive Democrats, who are often high-earning professionals, do. This contrast may play a role in Republicans’ recent gains among minority voters.

Cecilia Muñoz, a longtime immigrant advocate and former Obama adviser, told me. “And that’s the thing that makes Americans anxious.”

One of the advantages to the Democrats’ old approach to immigration was that it was easy to describe: Be firm at the border, be generous to people who have lived in the U.S. for years. The new approach also has an abiding idea: Be more welcoming to people who want to enter the country. But Democrats still have not figured out the limits to that idea, which has created an early problem for the Biden presidency.

The Times’s Farhad Manjoo has written. Shikha Dalmia has argued that more immigration will lift economic growth, and Matthew Yglesias has written “One Billion Americans” a book making the case that more immigration will help the U.S. compete with China.

  • Fewer: “The progressive case for reducing immigration” revolves around higher wages, according to Philip Cafaro. And The Atlantic’s David Frum has suggested that less immigration will reduce the political appeal of nativism.

  • In Bloom: Spring has arrived in New York. Here come the cornflowers, butterfly milkweed and black-eyed Susans.

    Lives Lived: Dr. Nawal el Saadawi was an Egyptian author, physician and advocate for women’s rights in the Arab world who told her own story of female genital mutilation in her memoirs. She died at 89.

    Take a virtual tour of the factory here.)

    “Outside, there is total chaos,” one enthusiast said. “But inside, around my little train set, it is quiet, it is picturesque.”

    play online.

    Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Heart throb (five letters).

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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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    Surge in Migrants Defies Easy or Quick Solutions for Biden

    WASHINGTON — The Biden administration warned on Tuesday that the United States expected to make more apprehensions along the southwestern border this year than at any time in the past two decades, underscoring the urgency for the White House to develop solutions for the chronic problems with immigration from Central America.

    The grim prediction by Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the secretary of homeland security, came as President Biden was being assailed for his handling of a surge at the border involving thousands of unaccompanied children and teenagers from the region — with attacks coming from the right for not being tough enough and from the left for not being humane enough.

    The president has pleaded for time and patience, blaming his predecessor for dismantling the immigration system in his zeal to keep foreigners out. But even Mr. Biden’s top advisers acknowledge that after unwinding the harsh policies of President Donald J. Trump’s, there is no easy or quick fix for a problem that has been a recurring crisis.

    “We have no illusions about how hard it is, and we know it will take time,” Mr. Mayorkas said in a statement on Tuesday as the House prepared to vote this week on several immigration measures and the administration rushed to provide more housing for the young migrants arriving at the border. But, he added, “We will get it done.”

    restart the Obama-era Central American Minors program, which was intended to allow some children to apply in their home region for permission to live in the United States with a parent or other relative. When Mr. Trump ended the program, about 3,000 Central American children had been approved for travel to the United States.

    It will take time to ramp up the program, which has strict vetting requirements, in order to verify the relationships of the children and their relatives.

    Now, the administration is eager to examine even broader efforts to consider asylum applications remotely.

    The administration is already testing a system where migrants, who were told by the Trump administration to wait along the border in squalid camps in Mexico, can use an app on their cellphones to apply for asylum and track their cases. That kind of system might be expanded more broadly, officials said.

    “This is the road map going forward for a system that is safe, orderly and fair,” Mr. Mayorkas said.

    Many of the changes Mr. Biden wants are included in comprehensive immigration legislation he sent to Congress on his first day in office. But that bill is a long way from becoming law, especially with Mr. Trump and other Republicans again using immigration to stoke their partisan base.

    Mr. Biden’s most ambitious — and difficult — goal is to use the United States’ wealth and diplomatic power to reshape the region in the hopes of diminishing the root causes of migration from Central America, starting with poverty and violence.

    It is an effort that has been tried before, Mr. Obama and members of Congress from both parties agreed to invest several hundred million dollars into Central America with the hope of improving the courts, diminishing the cartels and improving economic conditions.

    Mr. Trump cut that spending, arguing that it was a waste of money, before restoring some of it. But Mr. Biden’s team is betting that even more investment will produce results. In Honduras, for example, the country’s coffee production has been hurt by hurricanes and slumping prices for coffee beans, driving many people into poverty.

    But helping to reverse those kinds of economic trends could take years.

    “When the president talks about ‘root causes,’ some of this is immediate humanitarian aid, but a lot of it is policy and aid together, making sure that you tackle the root causes of migration,” Ms. Jacobson said. “Otherwise, what you see is continued cycles.”

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    On Mexico’s Border With U.S.,Desperation as Migrant Traffic Piles Up

    Mexico is struggling to deal with a new wave of migrants expelled from the U.S. while even more come north hoping to cross. Shelters that were empty four months ago are now having to turn many away.


    CIUDAD JUÁREZ, Mexico — The migrants’ hopes have been drummed up by human smugglers who promise that President Biden’s administration will welcome them.

    Instead, the United States is expelling them back to Mexico, where they wait along with tens of thousands of others hoping to cross. The pressure, and desperation, is quickly building among families stuck in Mexico, as shelters and officials struggle to help them.

    In the United States, the federal authorities are scrambling to manage a sharp increase in children who are crossing the border on their own and then being held in detention facilities, often longer than permitted by law. And the twinned crises on both sides of the border show no sign of abating.

    Near the crossing with El Paso, Texas, a group of mothers and fathers clutching their children were sobbing as they walked back into Mexico from the United States on Saturday. They walked unsteadily, in sneakers too loose after their shoelaces were confiscated and discarded along with all their other personal items when they were detained by the United States Customs and Border Protection.

    natural disasters in Central America wiped away livelihoods.

    the thousands of unaccompanied migrant children who are filling up detention facilities after Mr. Biden said, shortly after taking office, that his administration would no longer turn back unaccompanied minors.

    Mexican officials and shelter operators say the number of children, with parents or unaccompanied, is reaching levels not seen since 2018. Late that year, tens of thousands of migrants headed for the border each month, prompting Mr. Trump’s administration to separate families and lock them up. Hundreds of children remain separated from their parents to this day.

    as it did during the Trump administration, officials said.

    A Mexican Foreign Ministry official said the government was within its right to deport illegal migrants but did not comment on whether raids had increased in recent weeks or whether the Mexican government was responding to a U.S. request.

    At the international bridge on Saturday, Dagoberto Pineda, a Honduran migrant, looked shocked as he discreetly wiped away tears and held his 6-year-old son’s hand. He had thought he was entering the United States, but here he was in Ciudad Juárez, crying underneath a Mexican flag. He asked Mr. Valenzuela and New York Times journalists for help: Was he allowed in or not?

    massive hurricane hurtled through Mr. Pineda’s town late last year, destroying the banana plantation he worked on, owned by Chiquita Brands International. After years of paying Mr. Pineda about $12 a day to help fill American grocery stores with fresh fruit, the company laid him off. When coyotes offered him a chance to cross into the United States for $6,000 — more than his annual salary — he took it.

    Mr. Pineda had crossed from Tamaulipas State into southern Texas, where he was detained by American officials for several days. When he was flown 600 miles to a second detention center in El Paso, Texas, he thought his entry into the United States had finally been granted.

    Instead, on Saturday, border patrol agents released him on the Paso del Norte bridge, linking El Paso to Ciudad Juárez, and told him to walk in the direction of the Mexican flags.

    Over the past week, Mexican officials and shelter operators like the International Organization of Migration said they had been surprised by the Department of Homeland Security’s new practice of detaining migrants at one point of the sprawling border only to fly them hundreds of miles away to be expelled at a different border town.

    The United States is doing this under a federal order known as Title 42. The order, introduced by Mr. Trump but embraced by Mr. Biden, justifies rapid expulsions as a health measure amid the pandemic. But cramming migrants into airplanes and overcrowded detention facilities without any coronavirus testing defeats the purpose of Title 42, observers say.

    Stephanie Malin, a spokeswoman for Customs and Border Protection, said that the American authorities had seen “an increase in encounters” but that to adhere to federal guidelines for Covid-19, border officials were “expeditiously” transferring migrants out of their custody.

    “Trump got his wall, it’s called Title 42,” said Rubén Garcia, the founder of Annunciation House, one of the largest shelter networks in the United States, based in El Paso.

    Still, the new surge of migrants is straining resources throughout the system. Last Sunday, Mr. Garcia said, he was left with barely 30 minutes to prepare after being told by the authorities that 200 migrants were about to be deposited at his shelter, none of them tested for Covid-19.

    “I’m on calls with staffers at the White House and D.H.S. and when I’m on those calls I say: ‘You’re not prepared. You’re not prepared for what is about to happen,’” Mr. Garcia said in an interview, using the acronym for the Department of Homeland Security.

    Across the border, Mexican officials are also ill-prepared to handle the rising number of migrants, with shelters at a breaking point.

    If Mr. Valenzuela’s daughter had not looked up from her book to spot the families crossing the border, all 19 migrants would have been dumped in downtown Ciudad Juárez, one of Mexico’s most dangerous cities, at the mercy of the cartels or human traffickers.

    The night before, Mr. Valenzuela welcomed 45 families with little time to prepare.

    Under Mr. Trump’s Remain in Mexico Policy, which deported migrants to Mexico to wait out their court cases for asylum in the United States, communication and coordination was better between the various organizations operating along the border, shelter operators and Mexican officials said. Mr. Biden ended that policy in January and promised to start processing some of the 25,000 migrants enrolled in that program. In recent weeks, hundreds have been let in.

    Jettner, 29, a migrant from Honduras, is one of those who was allowed in to the United States. After waiting for nearly two years on the border with his wife and two daughters, it took them barely an hour on Friday to be processed and let in. He swiftly went to his sister’s house in Dallas.

    As he walked up the bridge, leaving Ciudad Juárez behind as he strode toward El Paso, he was confident. “My life is going to change 180 degrees,” said Jettner, who asked that only his first name be used, fearing reprisals for his family back home. “I am going to a place where I will be well and have a decent roof over the heads of my daughters.”

    Though American officials insist that the border is closed to new migrants, that has not stopped thousands from making the dangerous journey north, most from Central America.

    Just four months ago, the Filter Hotel shelter in Ciudad Juárez was so empty that they used several rooms as storage. The shelter, run by the International Organization of Migration, now has signs on its door declaring “no space.”

    Of the 1,165 people the Filter Hotel has processed since early May, nearly 39 percent were minors, most of them younger than 12, employees said. Its staff often has to shoo smugglers away when they loiter around shelter entrances.

    Gladys Oneida Pérez Cruz, 48, and her 23-year-old son, Henry Arturo Menjívar Pérez, who has cerebral palsy, came to the shelter after being expelled from the United States late last month. Shortly after Mr. Biden’s inauguration, smugglers began cruising her neighborhood in Honduras for business, falsely putting out the word that the United States border was open.

    Ms. Pérez hoped to join her sister in Maryland, and to find work that would help her afford medicine for her son.

    A coyote charged her $9,000 for the trip — a steeper price than she expected, but it came with the promise she would travel by car and his colleagues would help her carry her son across the border, as he had to leave his wheelchair behind. Her sister wired the money. She and her son embarked on the dangerous trek on Feb. 7, she said. Nearly two weeks later, the smugglers dumped them at the border and said they would have to cross on their own.

    They managed to cross after hours of effort, but were quickly detained by American border patrol agents and expelled back to Mexico. She has decided to return to Honduras, preferring to face poverty rather than risk being killed or kidnapped in Mexico.

    “I apologize for having tried to enter the United States like this, but it was because of my need and my son’s illness,” she said through her tears.

    “Biden promised us that everything was going to change,” she said. “He hasn’t done it yet, but he is going to be a good president for migrants.”

    Albinson Linares contributed reporting from Juárez, Mexico.

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    A Raid, Deportation and Massacre Hit Two Communities Thousands of Miles Apart

    CARTHAGE, Miss.—Nineteen people, most of them Maya Indian migrants from Guatemala, were killed in Mexico in January, their bodies dismembered and burned 14 miles from the Texas border. Some 800 miles away, this small Mississippi community was left to grieve.

    Among the dead was Edgar López, a 50-year-old longtime resident of Carthage, Miss., and a lay leader of his church who was trying to return home to his children and grandchildren after he was deported to Guatemala in 2020, according to court records and interviews. Mr. López had worked for 24 years without a visa in local chicken plants.

    Another victim was Osmar Miranda, a 19-year-old soccer fan who hoped to build a new life for himself in Carthage, where he planned to stay with his cousin and get a job to help pay for his mother’s diabetes medication.

    At least 11 of the victims (one body was so damaged it hasn’t yet been identified) hailed from Comitancillo, a municipality in Guatemala’s highlands where endemic poverty and malnutrition have driven hundreds during the past two decades to build a new community—in Carthage.

    Edgar López in Comitancillo, Guatemala, last August following his deportation from the U.S.

    Photo: Cristino Miranda

    Decades of silent migration have built an invisible geography that links distant towns like Carthage and Comitancillo. Nearly everyone in Carthage’s Guatemalan community, which makes up about 5% of the surrounding county’s residents, knew Mr. López, whose 4-year-old grandson still asks when his grandfather will be home. The cousin awaiting Mr. Miranda is left with only photos. A local high-school teacher had several students ask for more time to complete assignments because they had had relatives killed in the massacre.

    “The entire community has been smacked by tragedy. They are all family, all relatives,” said the Rev. Odel Medina, pastor of St. Anne Catholic Church, where Guatemalan migrants make up the majority of the congregation. The two communities are so close that Father Medina livestreams St. Anne’s Sunday services for those in Guatemala to watch alongside their relatives in the U.S.

    The massacre, the deportations that preceded it and the continuing migration northward from Central American towns like Comitancillo show the inherent risks of illegal immigration and the tragedy of some individuals caught between escaping the poverty and violence of their home countries and breaking the law in their adopted land.

    Every year, a few hundred thousand migrants enter the U.S. illegally to work at meatpacking plants, construction sites and farms across the country. Legal pathways for Guatemalans to migrate are scarce: Only 3,800 work visas were granted in 2020 compared with the 47,000 Guatemalans apprehended at the border. Many live in constant fear of deportation.

    And every year, tens of thousands of people are deported, including some who have lived in the U.S. for decades and leave behind homes and families. Many risk everything to return north through Mexico, whose dangerous roads are controlled by criminal gangs and corrupt authorities.

    “It is a new trail of tears,” said Joe Boland, director of mission at Catholic Extension, a charity that works with poor families in the U.S., many of them migrants from Mexico and Central America.

    As Mr. López’s relatives grieved, some blamed U.S. authorities for deporting him. “If they hadn’t grabbed him, Edgar would still be alive,” said Cristino Miranda, his brother-in-law in Guatemala. “This is what most hurts me.”

    The remains of Guatemalan migrants killed in January in Camargo, Mexico, near the U.S. border, arrived Friday in Guatemala City.

    Photo: Moises Castillo/Associated Press

    An official at Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency that deported Mr. López, said it is tasked with enforcing U.S. law. The official added that ICE has new guidelines for enforcement and removal operations that prioritize threats to national security and public safety.

    Carthage is a three-stoplight town surrounded by farms, with a Walmart, a John Deere dealer, a Piggly Wiggly supermarket, churches and fast-food restaurants. Nestled between them are Tienda Guatemex and Tienda Andy, convenience stores that cater to local Hispanics.

    The first migrants from Comitancillo arrived in Mississippi in the late 1980s, driven by a decadeslong civil war that devastated Guatemala, said the Rev. Mario Aguilon, Comitancillo’s parish priest.

    Mr. López, who spoke English, Spanish and Mam, a version of Mayan, spent 24 years working in chicken processing plants and setting down roots in the rolling hills and forests of central Mississippi. Two of his three children and his four grandchildren are U.S. citizens.

    In Carthage, Mr. López split his time between work, church and family. Sister Maria Elena Mendez, who taught classes on Catholicism and leadership, said he would often come to class without having slept after working a night shift—dedication she admired.

    Tienda Guatemex in Carthage, Miss.

    Photo: Rory Doyle for The Wall Street Journal

    Migrants from Guatemala make up the majority of the congregation at St. Anne Catholic Church in Carthage.

    Photo: Rory Doyle for The Wall Street Journal

    Life unraveled for Mr. López nearly two years ago. A mechanic, his job was to make sure the processing belt on the chicken line never stopped. But the routine one day was interrupted by a flurry of panicked texts and phone calls from co-workers and family: Immigration agents were at the chicken plants.

    ICE agents rounded up 680 immigrants at five plants, including Mr. López. About a third were ultimately deported.

    At a court hearing months later, Judge Carlton Reeves noted that Mr. López had never committed a crime, had prepaid his property taxes and raised children who provided translation services at hospitals.

    “Working every day, involved in his church every day, involved in the community every day…this is the type of neighbor we all want,” Judge Reeves said. “Unfortunately, Mr. López, I’m not here to make the laws.”

    He sentenced Mr. López to one day in custody, noting that immigration authorities would likely deport him because he had already been deported once before some 20 years ago, and under U.S. law that made him a serial offender. Judge Reeves declined to be interviewed.

    Back in Comitancillo, Mr. López spent the first months of the pandemic looking after his 94-year-old father and volunteering at the local church. By January, he could no longer stand to be apart from his wife and extended family, said his wife, Sonia Cardona, and priest. He started the journey back to the U.S.

    Comitancillo, in Guatemala’s highlands, relies heavily on subsistence farming.

    Photo: Oliver de Ros/Associated Press

    In Camargo, Tamaulipas state, just south of Texas’s Rio Grande Valley, Mr. López and his fellow travelers were killed and burned, their charred remains found in two incinerated vehicles.

    Mexican authorities arrested and charged 12 state police officers in the killings. Their motives remain under investigation. Senior state officials theorize the police mistook the group of migrants for a local gang. Or police could have been working themselves for one of the gangs, which are perpetually at war with rivals for control of smuggling routes.

    “They called me from Guatemala. They said, ‘Do you know what has happened?’ ’’ Ms. Cardona said. “I could not believe it. And in the end, it was true.”

    In Carthage, family members of the dead were stunned by the massacre.

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    “It was not the cartels who killed them, it was police,” said Baldemar Temaj, who works in sanitation at a local chicken plant. “People here are in shock. Why? It’s the same as if you come out of your house and a policeman kills you.”

    Like others in Carthage, Mr. Temaj had known Mr. López for years. Mr. Temaj had also been awaiting the arrival of Osmar Miranda, his cousin, who dreamed of a new life in Mississippi.

    Still a teenager, Mr. Miranda had struggled to find stable work in Comitancillo, Mr. Temaj said. In the U.S. he had hoped to make enough of an income to help his mother pay for her diabetes medication. Since Mr. Miranda’s death, Mr. Temaj has been organizing fundraising efforts for his family, as well as the families of the other victims.

    In Comitancillo, where the main source of work is subsistence farming, nearly everyone dreams of coming to the U.S., said Father Aguilon, the town priest. People save for years and mortgage their plots to pay upward of $9,000 to human smugglers for the trip.

    The day before he left, Mr. López asked Father Aguilon to bless his journey. It would be the last time he saw him.

    Late Friday, a mass for Mr. López and the other migrants was held at Comitancillo’s municipal soccer stadium. Hundreds of mourners packed the stands and the surrounding field. Distraught relatives cried over the caskets of their loved ones, covered with blue-and-white Guatemalan flags.

    Write to Elizabeth Findell at Elizabeth.Findell@wsj.com, Juan Montes at juan.montes@wsj.com and José de Cordoba at jose.decordoba@wsj.com

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