JUAREZ, Mexico — Mexican officials on Monday unveiled a comprehensive plan to deal with thousands of migrants who’ll be waiting in Juarez for their court hearings in the United States.
The so-called Juarez Initiative includes the construction of a government shelter that will process all migrants returned to Mexico by the U.S. government, which will include medical facilities, dormitories, a jobs center, a kitchen and other services.
Migrants would spend a day or more at the facility before being routed to private shelters — which are currently overcrowded and underfunded –, freed with the paperwork necessary to fend for themselves in Juarez or returned home if they so desire, officials said Monday.
However, the officials will insist that the United States cap the number of “returnees” — Central Americans and others placed in the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program — to 200 per day in Juarez. The city has already received nearly 8,000 migrants through the MPP program, and thousands more are awaiting their first appointment with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
As part of binational negotiations, “we had talked about receiving 200 people a day here, 200 in Tijuana and 100 in Mexicali,” said Horacio Duarte Olivares, Mexico’s Labor Undersecretary.
“We know the number can fluctuate, but only once have we had more, and that was 280” in Juarez, Duarte said here on Monday. “We have also asked U.S. authorities for a more expeditious process to reduce the wait times for those who are applying for asylum.”
The Juarez Initiative will be managed by a committee that includes federal government officials like Duarte, representatives from the state of Chihuahua and the City of Juarez, maquiladora industry officials, Catholic and Protestant pastors who run migrant shelters.
The advantage of having a “migrant clearinghouse” like the one planned for Juarez is that foreigners forced to stay in the city for long periods can get work permits before they leave the shelter, Duarte said.
“We’re no longer talking about the traditional migrant that only stayed here for a few days before attempting to cross into the United States. Now we have people with asylum hearings many months into the future, people who will be staying for a long time,” he said.
Pedro Gomez, an executive with the Juarez maquiladora association, said manufacturing plants have more than 5,000 vacancies and welcome migrant labor.
“They will not be taking away jobs from Mexicans; those vacancies already exist,” he said, adding that even more jobs will be available once the United States and Canada ratify the new North American free trade agreement, which will be replacing the accord known as NAFTA.
Javier Calvillo, the priest that runs Casa del Migrante, the city’s largest migrant shelter, said he hopes the Juarez Initiative will solve safety issues plaguing the thousands of foreigners who’ve come to Juarez since last fall.
“There are many human rights violations — too many. This is something we need to take care of. No plan, even if it involves the government, churches and private business, can succeed if we continue to have deaths, kidnappings, human traffickers and if people don’t respect the rights of migrants,” Calvillo said. “I’m glad that (the government) is making this public commitment because they are the ones with the resources.”
Labor Undersecretary Duarte said the site of the new shelter hasn’t been chosen, though three locations are under review. The start of construction and a possible grand opening are pending, he said.