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Cold sets in, but many Mexican asylum-seekers refuse government offer of shelter in Juárez

Mexican asylum-seekers camp in the Chamizal park in Juárez on Wednesday night, Dec. 18, 2019.

JUÁREZ — Hundreds of Mexican asylum-seekers camped for months near the city's busiest international bridges are refusing to leave to shelters, despite plunging temperatures.
Mexican authorities began offering to move families from three encampments as a cold front hit the Borderland this week. On Wednesday night, only 20 migrants agreed to move, according to the city's Civil Protection agency.
Authorities said concerns for the health of the children have grown as temperatures dropped below freezing overnight this week. 
"Our concern is that the children's human rights are being violated, that they are being exposed to these temperatures and the sicknesses that come with it," said Efren Matamoros, director of Civil Protection. "Our biggest fear is that a child could die in the cold that we're seeing."


Mexican asylum-seekers began flocking to Juárez in large numbers in September, bearing stories of violence and extortion in their home states of Zacatecas, Michoacán and Guerrero.
As of Dec. 11, according to local authorities, there were nearly 600 people living in the encampments at the foot of the Paso Del Norte and Zaragoza bridges, as well as in the Chamizal park near the Bridge of the Americas.
At each camp, the migrants are maintaining a handwritten list of the order in which they arrived. U.S. Customs and Border Protection has occasionally been permitting a few families a day to cross to make an asylum claim.


State and federal authorities in Mexico who have been working closely with CBP to organize Central American and Cuban asylum-seekers in Juárez are asking for a change to the process with Mexican asylum-seekers, Matamoros said.
Mexican authorities are asking CBP to begin receiving Mexican asylum-seekers only at the Paso Del Norte Bridge — and only if they are housed in a shelter, he said.
Under the plan, Matamoros said, the state population agency, known as COESPO; the Grupos Beta migrant aid agency; and the National Migration Institute, or INAMI, would take control of the list of Mexican asylum-seekers as they did with the list of foreign nationals.
A CBP spokesman said there has been no change this week to the agency’s policy regarding Mexican asylum requests.

"CBP could bring all 550 asylum-seekers out of the cold and into the U.S.," said Linda Rivas, executive director of the Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center in El Paso. "It's our humanitarian duty. Why are we putting it on the Mexican government?"
Many of the Mexican migrant families have been refusing government assistance or offers to move into shelters, saying they don't want to lose their place in line and are skeptical of the government.
Several families told the El Paso Times this week they are aware federal and local authorities want to move them to shelters. They say they don’t want to leave because they don’t know what to expect.
Lydia, a mother with two children in tow, has lived in precarious conditions in the Chamizal park for three months but is reluctant to leave, despite the cold. She asked that her full name be withheld to protect her identity; she said she fled organized crime in her home state of Michoacán.


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“The government says one thing and then another,” she said. "Really, I am sincerely afraid. We don’t have confidence in them anymore.”
Near the Bridge of the Americas — the most heavily trafficked bridge between El Paso and Juárez — Lydia and more than 200 Mexican asylum-seekers have been living in the Chamizal, a large public park peppered with trees.
As the cold weather set in, they covered their tents with tarps tamped down with bricks. They used fallen branches to burn fires to cook food and keep warm. When it began to rain days in a row, they dug ditches to channel the water away from their tents.
On Tuesday evening, the sun disappeared behind the mountains and the smell of burning branches filled the air. Children, bundled against the cold, played with toys donated by people on both sides of the border

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