JUAREZ, Mexico — The Mexican government will issue temporary work permits to foreigners stuck in Juarez while their asylum petitions are vetted in the United States, Chihuahua state officials said on Wednesday.
The permits, known as Clave Unica de Registro de Poblacion, or CURP, are available as of this week at the National Immigration Institute office on the Mexican side of the Bridge of the Americas, the officials said.
“This will ease the burden of migrants who are returned to Mexico with little money and lots of needs. Many don’t have a place to sleep and face waits of 12 to 18 months, yet they have to survive here somehow,” said Enrique Valenzuela, director of the State Population Council (COESPO) in Juarez.
COESPO since March has been the go-between migrants seeking asylum in the United States and American federal authorities who conduct credible fear interviews and schedule court dates. The agency maintains a waiting list and issues numbers for appointments with Customs and Border Protection in El Paso.
Many of the migrants are returned to Mexico to await their court dates under a controversial program called Migrant Protection Protocols.
Immigration lawyers and advocates in El Paso oppose making their clients wait in Juarez, due to economic hardship, violence and other factors.
Melissa Lopez, executive director of Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services in El Paso, said the work permits will be helpful, but by no means solve the asylum seekers’ problems.
“The ability to support themselves is critical, so I think that is certainly going to be helpful,” Lopez said.
But, “I don’t think giving people work permits in Mexico makes the Migrant Protection Protocols acceptable. The MPP program still denies them access to attorneys and a safe well-being while they are waiting on their asylum claims,” she added. “So, it’s not a solution to MPP.”
Migrants often cite crime problems in Juarez when asking the U.S. immigration judge not to return them to Mexico. El Paso attorneys say they are forbidden from practicing law in Mexico, so they are unable to advise their clients once they are sent to Juarez.
Valenzuela said that, as of this week, 6,811 migrants have been returned to Juarez by federal authorities in El Paso. In addition, 5,600 are still awaiting their initial hearing.
He said Juarez shelters are housing 900, others are trying to survive as best they can on their own, and up a third may have left the area.
“They might have returned to their countries or are trying to enter (the United States) through other border cities,” he said.
Valenzuela said Juarez officials — and businesses like the maquila industry — have been lobbying the Mexican federal government to make it easier for the migrants to obtain work permits.
“The businesses tell us they have many jobs openings, that they are willing to hire these people,” he said. “There’s a lot of jobs here in Juarez, up to 20,000 in the maquiladora industry and other businesses.”
The temporary work authorizations only require that the migrant prove that he or she is under the asylum-seekers’ protocol and has a form known as FMM, which is given to foreigners when they enter Mexico and allows them to stay or travel for up to 180 days.
Only migrants who are over 18 years old qualify for work permits, and they must initiate the process on the Mexican side of the Bridge of the Americas, Valenzuela said.
It’s likely that the National Immigration Institute will begin issuing permits also at its office near the Paso del Norte Bridge next month, he said.
Migrants interviewed Wednesday in Juarez had mixed feelings about the work permits.
“I don’t want to stay in Juarez. I want to go to my hearings and move on,” said Abel Olmedo, a Cuban who on Wednesday went to the State Population Council office in Juarez to see if his number had been called.
Olmedo said he witnessed a shooting in Downtown Juarez and was nearly grazed by a stray bullet. On another occasion, he escaped a robbery attempt by running into a crowded store.
“It’s not a safe place,” he said.
However, Relvis Perez, also from Cuba, said he welcomes the opportunity to get a work permit.
“It would be good to have a formal job with good pay,” said Perez, who sells sodas and water out of a plastic bucket in Downtown Juarez and says he barely makes enough to survive.
Perez says he hasn’t been targeted by criminals but knows other Cubans who have. “I mostly hear about people who’ve been robbed on the streets,” he said.