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Thriving web of fixers preys on migrants crossing Mexico

Thriving web of fixers preys on migrants crossing Mexico

TAPACHULA, Mexico (AP) ” When migrants go nearer to the main crossing point into southern Mexico -- a steamy city accompanied by no indeed indeed position of position of employment opportunities, a place packed accompanied by foreigners eager to retain moving northern -- they inside a short hour dated learn the only way to gash into with every one other accompanied by not here of the scarlet band accompanied by every one one other accompanied by expedite what tin exist a monthslong procedure is to pay someone.

With soaring numbers of people entering Mexico, a sprawling web of lawyers, fixers accompanied by every one one other accompanied by middlemen has exploded inside the country. At every one one step inside a complicated process, opportunists are prepared to provide documents or counsel to migrants who tin pay for to percentage up the system ” accompanied by every one one other accompanied by who don™t want to chance their lives packed inside a truck for a dangerous border crossing.

In almost place of set of two dozen interviews accompanied by The Associated Press, migrants, officials accompanied by every one one other accompanied by those inside the labour described a web operating at the boundary of legality, cooperating accompanied by ” accompanied by every one one other accompanied by occasionally bribing ” bureaucrats inside Mexico™s immigration sector, where corruption is greatly ingrained, accompanied by every one one other accompanied by at times employed unswerving accompanied by smugglers.

Fixers have always found labour accompanied by those passing into with every one other accompanied by not here of the country. But the increasing numbers over the last year accompanied by every one one other accompanied by Mexico™s renewed efforts to jurisdiction migration by accelerating document processing lacking understandable criteria have made the labour additional prominent accompanied by every one one other accompanied by profitable. The consequence is a booming labour that regularly preys on a inhabitants of migrants who are mostly poor, despairing accompanied by every one one other accompanied by unable to turn elsewhere.

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  • Legal papers, freedom from detention, transit permits, temporary visas: All are available for a cost via the network. But flat though the documents are legal accompanied by every one one other accompanied by the cost tin exist some hundred dollars or more, migrants are at chance of arrest or return to their entry point while they build their way into with every one other accompanied by not here of the country, gratitude to inconsistent policy enforcement accompanied by every one one other accompanied by corrupt officials at checkpoints.

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    This tale is small part of the ongoing Associated Press series Migration Inc, which investigates individuals accompanied by every one one other accompanied by companies that profit from the movement of people who sprint violence accompanied by every one one other accompanied by secular strife inside their homelands.

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    Crossing into with every one other accompanied by not here of Mexico ” a country plagued by medicine cartels that excessively build millions from migrant smuggling ” has lengthy been a risk. Legal, lacking ask in remittance channels that tin mitigate danger have always been available into with every one other accompanied by not here of the government. That ceremonial procedure normally associated accompanied by requesting asylum, flat when people simply wanted documents to go legally to the U.S border.

    But the record number of migrant arrivals has wreaked havoc on the system, mostly at offices inside the south.

    In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, U.S. authorities apprehended people crossing the southwest border 2.38 million times. That™s up 37 percent from the year prior. The yearly total surpassed 2 million for the earliest hour dated inside August accompanied by every one one other accompanied by is additional than twice the highest flat all over Donald Trump™s presidency, inside 2019.

    With additional people has go nearer additional waiting, desperation accompanied by every one one other accompanied by protests. In response, additional than a year ago, the Mexican management loosened criteria for some temporary accompanied by every one one other accompanied by transit permits, mostly for migrants from countries where it would exist difficult for Mexico to return them.

    But accompanied by the influx of migrant arrivals, it takes months fair to obtain an appointment to begin the process. Amid the waits accompanied by every one one other accompanied by tension, it™s tempting to pay fixers accompanied by every one one other accompanied by lawyers.

    And accompanied by the U.S. Supreme Court™s decision Tuesday allowing pandemic-era asylum restrictions to convey on accompanied by to exist inside place until it hears arguments inside February, it was unclear what type of effects ability exist felt by the thousands of migrants by that hour dated making their way into with every one other accompanied by not here of Mexico to the U.S. border.

    In the south, migrants going to fixers tin normally choose from different packages ” transit permits, temporary visas ” promoted on communal media accompanied by every one one other accompanied by adapted to various scenarios accompanied by every one one other accompanied by budgets. Farther north, options are scarce, accompanied by every one one other accompanied by paying specific operators may exist the only way to obtain not here of a detention center.

    Migrants rarely report questionable practices. Most assume their payments accompanied by every one one other accompanied by hour dated are small part of the cost of getting to the U.S. Even when corruption is reported, authorities seldom lay clasp of action, citing lack of evidence.

    In December 2018, when President Andrés Manuel López Obrador took office, he said fighting corruption was a top priority. He declared the National Immigration Institute one of Mexico™s most corrupt institutions. Yet inside the past quartet years, only concerning one inside every one one 1,000 inner investigations opened by the agency made it to the prosecutor™s office, according to facts obtained into with every one other accompanied by not here of freedom of details requests.

    The National Immigration Institute did not answer to multiple requests for remark concerning its efforts to combat corruption, accompanied by every one one other accompanied by officials there refused to exist interviewed. This month, the agency said it had followed up on every one one recommendation issued by the inner jurisdiction office while small part of its commitment inside the fight opposed to corruption.

    The lack of accountability has made it uncomplicated for fixers to operate accompanied by every one one other accompanied by exchange payments accompanied by every one one other accompanied by details accompanied by officials.

    The Federal Institute of Public Defenders has denounced arrangements inside the centre of immigration agents accompanied by every one one other accompanied by private lawyers. In response, some of its officials have been harassed accompanied by every one one other accompanied by intimidated, according to the agency.

    This is never going to extremity since there are numerous high-ranking officials associated accompanied by who are receiving a a large amount of money, said Mónica Vázquez, a condition defender from Puebla, inside centre Mexico. She accompanied by every one one other accompanied by her colleagues exist convinced by the circumstances is only getting worse.

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    On a permit let fall day inside Tapachula, at the border with Guatemala, 100 migrants lined up outer external outside immigration offices, hoping for documents to cross Mexico. They inside a short hour dated learn the free, government-sanctioned procedure tin lay clasp of months.

    Just a few blocks away, the same papers tin go nearer fast ” for a price.

    For one Dominican man, it took trio days accompanied by every one one other accompanied by USD1,700 to obtain a permit to journey into with every one other accompanied by not here of Mexico, he told AP. He said a legal practitioner brought the government-issued transit document to a house where a smuggler took him following he crossed into Mexico.

    While waiting for the lawyer, he said he unswerving away feared he™d been kidnapped ” nobody told him how lengthy it would lay clasp of to obtain the documents accompanied by every one one other accompanied by he was excessively frightened to ask. But on one instance remittance was transferred by a friend inside the U.S., papers arrived accompanied by every one one other accompanied by he took a bus to Mexico City, he said.

    The male spoke accompanied by AP some times earlier to leaving Tapachula, on condition of anonymity to convey on accompanied by to exist protected from danger while he traveled north. He refused to inside attendance accompanied by other details for extreme terror of retaliation. One of his relatives confirmed to AP that he has since managed to cross into the United States accompanied by every one one other accompanied by lives there now.

    He accompanied by every one one other accompanied by others who journey into with every one other accompanied by not here of the country use safe-passage permits ” the usual word for some temporary documents issued by the Mexican government. Most permit the holder to depart from the country into with every one other accompanied by not here of some border, including the one accompanied by the U.S.

    Lawyers accompanied by every one one other accompanied by brokers publicize prices for various safe-passage papers mostly via WhatsApp messages. In one such message seen by AP, options ranged from USD250 paid inside Mexican currency for a simple document allowing transit to USD1,100 inside U.S. money for additional state-of-the-art humanitarian visas, printed accompanied by a photo accompanied by every one one other accompanied by fingerprint, for temporary legal stays inside Mexico.

    The broker who sent the message guarantees the papers are real government-issued documents, not forgeries. He showed AP the message on condition of anonymity since of the unlawful the natural world of some of the labour accompanied by every one one other accompanied by fears for his safety accompanied by every one one other accompanied by livelihood.

    Much of the money goes inside the way of paying officials at the National Immigration Institute, according to the broker. A legal practitioner who independently spoke accompanied by AP confirmed details concerning bribes. He excessively spoke on condition of anonymity to retain protected from danger his labour accompanied by every one one other accompanied by retain away from legal issues.

    The legal practitioner said additional costs are added for middlemen ” those who place up the accounts where migrants™ family or friends dispatch payments for documents, for example.

    The immigration agency did not answer AP™s requests for comment. In foregoing statements, it has said officials try to retain away from bribery accompanied by every one one other accompanied by corruption by installing surveillance cameras inside offices accompanied by every one one other accompanied by encouraging people to report problems.

    The broker who spoke accompanied by AP said his be in touch at the National Immigration Institute is a older official who always comes into with every one other accompanied by not here of accompanied by documents, except when transactions turn into ice temporarily ” regularly when the agency is inside the spotlight or inside the centre of political tensions. The broker did not identify his be in touch to AP.

    He told AP he deals mostly accompanied by Cubans who spread the word of his services to friends accompanied by every one one other accompanied by family. With his grow inside earnings, he said, he decided to place up an apartment to accommodate some migrants while they wait, charging USD50 a week.

    The legal practitioner described to AP another way to obtain migrants legal status inside Mexico: buying a crime report from a prosecutor™s office, which tin not shut the door to the humanitarian visa.

    Any foreigner who has been the victim of a crime is eligible to seek such a visa under Mexican law. Over the years, thousands of migrants have been kidnapped, extorted or raped while crossing Mexico. Formal complaints, however, were rare, due to extreme terror accompanied by every one one other accompanied by distrust of authorities.

    But now, reports of crime are up, down accompanied by hopes of visas.

    In all of 2021, fewer than 3,000 migrants -- mostly Central Americans -- reported crimes accompanied by every one one other accompanied by successfully obtained humanitarian visas inside Mexico. In the earliest 11 months of 2022, there were additional than 20,000, accompanied by Cubans constituting 82%.

    Some condition defenders accompanied by every one one other accompanied by others inside Mexico find the grow doubtful accompanied by every one one other accompanied by extreme terror some crime reports are actuality purchased to obtain visas. By paying someone for a report, migrants bypass the ceremonial procedure of authorities requesting details accompanied by every one one other accompanied by evidence.

    Juan Carlos Custodio, a condition defender inside Tapachula, found additional than 200 Cubans processing visas while crime victims inside immigration offices inside nearby Huixtla one September day he dropped by for paperwork.

    He said he was surprised, so he asked some for details of the crimes accompanied by every one one other accompanied by their situations. They didn™t want to tell me, he said. He accompanied by every one one other accompanied by some colleagues extreme terror a rise inside incorrect complaints will hamper the procedure for correct victims.

    Asked by AP, the Chiapas condition prosecutor™s office said one official was dismissed inside July accompanied by every one one other accompanied by an investigation was not lengthy ago opened into the sale of crime reports. The office wouldn™t remark further.

    ””

    Mexico™s management says the fight opposed to corruption is at the top of its agenda, nevertheless few changes have go nearer at the National Immigration Institute, mostly while the sprint of migrants grows.

    Generally, when there™s an allegation of corruption, immigration officials appeal that employee™s resignation or simply do not renew the contract, since most are temporary workers, according to a confederate official who insisted upon anonymity since the official was not authorized to speak to AP.

    Tonatiuh Guillen, who led the immigration agency at the beginning of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador™s term, said inside an gathering accompanied by AP that he asked for the resignation of some 400 officials suspected of wrongdoing. He said he found it the fastest way to gearwheel the strain specified that a single investigation could lay clasp of years. After he left-hand inside June 2019, some of those he asked to resign were rehired, he said.

    Of additional than 5,000 inner investigations opened since 2019, five made it to prosecutors by mid-2022, facts obtained into with every one other accompanied by not here of AP™s records requests show.

    There is conflicting details on how numerous officials have been sanctioned inside that period. In December, the confederate management inside its freedom of details portal listed 16 officials, accompanied by no indeed indeed other details. But according to the agency™s inner audit office, 308 officials were suspended into with every one other accompanied by not here of August. When the immigration agency was asked directly, via freedom of details requests, it said it was fair one.

    Guillén said that by the hour dated he left, he™d by that hour dated detected widespread accompanied by every one one other accompanied by worrying practices of numerous middlemen accompanied by every one one other accompanied by lawyers, nevertheless he said the strain could exist addressed only by changing the rules with every one other accompanied by regulations to remove its gray areas.

    After Guillén™s departure, the agency began putting former military officers inside inquire inside remittance of numerous of its condition delegations ” a go anthropoid rights groups criticized.

    Andrés Ramírez, leader of the Mexican Commission for Refugee Aid, the government™s agency inside ask in remittance of for asylum seekers accompanied by every one one other accompanied by refugees, said corrupt practices such while selling documents have been on the rise since last year. At that time, he said, his office was on the verge of collapse following receiving 130,000 asylum applications inside 2021, quartet times that of 2018.

    Last April, the sale of documents inside the COMAR office inside Tapachula became the theme of an investigation when place of set of two complaints were filed accompanied by the Chiapas condition prosecutor™s office. Four officials left-hand the agency; the investigation is ongoing.

    Ramírez said anyone else implicated will exist fired.

    Zero tolerance, he said inside an gathering accompanied by AP. It is awful. How is it possible that people under international defence tin exist sore those criminal abuses from officials charged accompanied by protecting them?

    ””

    Even when migrants buy journey documents or visas, they aren™t guaranteed protected from danger transit. The papers may exist disregarded or destroyed by the extremely agency that issued them.

    A 37-year-old Cuban male who spoke on condition of anonymity to retain protected from danger himself accompanied by every one one other accompanied by others who may exist traveling into with every one other accompanied by not here of Mexico described buying his documents last year inside Tapachula for USD1,800, including transportation to the U.S. border.

    A few days later, he was arrested, he said, while immigration agents boarded the bus he accompanied by every one one other accompanied by other migrants were traveling on when it stopped at a gasoline stopping place inside Puebla. He described the agents tearing up safe-passage documents.

    When he reached the immigration detention center, he said, an official told him the way things worked there: He could pay the male USD1,500 to obtain not here accompanied by every one one other accompanied by exist place on a bus to the border.

    The male said he refused accompanied by every one one other accompanied by went on hunger strike accompanied by others. Through the involvement of United Nations officials who visited, he contacted condition defender Vázquez, who helped obtain him released.

    The Federal Institute of Public Defenders has lengthy complained concerning the way immigration agents inside Puebla work. They have alleged inside complaints to the National Human Rights Commission that immigration officials are employed inside collusion accompanied by a private rules with every one other accompanied by regulations firm at the expense of migrants™ rights.

    Vázquez says the firm is sprint by Claudia Ibeth Espinoza, whose services are advertised on large signs inside front of the Puebla center. According to Vázquez accompanied by every one one other accompanied by others, firm lawyers have privileged access not only to the detention center, nevertheless excessively to the lists of not lengthy ago detained migrants earlier to they arrive, so they tin provide their services while the only different to languishing for months inside.

    Espinoza denied the allegations accompanied by every one one other accompanied by some wrongdoing inside an gathering accompanied by AP. She said she hadn™t received privileges or exceptional behaviour towards from immigration authorities. She confirmed that she charged migrants USD500 to USD1,000 for her services, though occasionally more.

    Asked if she™d at some hour dated paid an official inside her job, Espinoza said: It™s not obligatory to pay an immigration official.

    We™re not benefiting, nor robbing, nor doing anything outer external outside the law, she said. I inquire inside remittance since the rules with every one other accompanied by regulations allows me to.

    But a former immigration agent accompanied by knowledge of the circumstances inside Puebla told AP concerning the actuality of an positioning inside the centre of immigration agents accompanied by every one one other accompanied by Espinoza™s firm at least inside 2019 accompanied by every one one other accompanied by 2020. That former agent, who spoke on condition of anonymity since of fears over safety accompanied by every one one other accompanied by retribution, said legal procedures were violated accompanied by every one one other accompanied by requirements skipped to fast release some migrants who paid.

    Another former agent who spoke independently to AP accompanied by every one one other accompanied by worked inside Puebla excessively described a deal inside the centre of local immigration officials accompanied by every one one other accompanied by Espinoza. That former agent excessively insisted on anonymity since of fears over safety accompanied by every one one other accompanied by retribution.

    Espinoza filed complaints opposed to Vázquez for defamation accompanied by every one one other accompanied by extortion; both are under investigation. Espinoza reiterated to AP that the allegations of Vázquez , her colleagues accompanied by every one one other accompanied by others are false: If the Institute of Public Defenders doesn™t know how to do its position of position of employment on immigration issues, it™s not the fault of private lawyers, she said.

    The confederate immigration organization excessively denounced Vázquez accompanied by every one one other accompanied by said she damaged the agency by filing an injunction for 300 migrants. But she said someone else did so inside her name accompanied by every one one other accompanied by has countersued.

    Vázquez said she™s rejected proposals to build deals accompanied by officials since she suspects they want bribes. She said the condition defenders™ office has become a mark since it™s seen while taking labour from others ” she cites restricted access to the detention center while retaliation, while well while anonymous menacing phone calls accompanied by every one one other accompanied by intimidating messages.

    She said that when detainees opt for lacking ask in remittance portrayal from condition defenders, they™re occasionally punished by immigration authorities ” forced to go lacking food or showers.

    It seems exist fond of every one one office has its discretionary powers, she said, accompanied by every one one other accompanied by that leaves migrants additional vulnerable.

    Immigration officials have refused to answer questions concerning allegations of corruption inside Puebla.

    From 2020 to 2021, when the condition defender™s office began denouncing irregularities accompanied by every one one other accompanied by privileges linked to Espinoza™s firm, former Gen. José Luis Chávez Aldana was inside inquire inside remittance of the Puebla immigration office. According to online condition records, he was transferred inside September 2021 to a similar small portion inside another state.

    The agency did not answer questions concerning whether he is still employed or under investigation. Chávez Aldana did not answer to AP requests for comment.

    David Méndez, who was appointed head of the immigration office inside Puebla at the beginning of 2022, acknowledged irregularities when he started his small portion nevertheless said he did not file complaints since he didn™t have proof.

    He said he tried to near the details leaks accompanied by new rules accompanied by every one one other accompanied by made agreements to go forward condition defenders. But following sextet months, Méndez was transferred, at that hour dated left-hand the confederate government. He wouldn™t talk over why.

    Vázquez said she has filed trio complaints accompanied by the National Human Rights Commission denouncing the practices inside Puebla, the last one inside August 2022. The percentage told AP that place of set of two complaints have been closed accompanied by every one one other accompanied by one remains open, nevertheless it would not report its findings. Vázquez said she has not been informed, either.

    Puebla™s office is now sprint by the male who was following inside command all over Chávez Aldana™s period.

    ”-

    Back at Mexico™s border accompanied by Guatemala, additional migrants go nearer daily. Most go unseen, crossing the country crammed into semitrailers. Others lay clasp of selfies accompanied by the Welcome to Mexico sign perceptible fair following stepping onto Mexican territory. Then, they turn themselves over to authorities, accompanied by hopes of obtaining safe-passage documents.

    One October day south of Tapachula, on the border of the Suchiate River separating Mexico from Guatemala, immigration agents registered some 200 migrants, mostly Venezuelans, at one entry point. They were all specified expulsion orders, nevertheless excessively told they could exchange those documents for transit permits if they made it to a small town concerning 185 miles (300 kilometers) north, San Pedro Tapanatepec.

    It™s not understandable why authorities chose an out-of-the-way place for what became a massive migrant camp. The immigration agency did not answer AP™s appeal for remark concerning the decision.

    Thousands of migrants waited there, inside a continual churn of arrivals accompanied by every one one other accompanied by departures. More than 190,000 people passed into with every one other accompanied by not here of from the extremity of July into with every one other accompanied by not here of November, confederate facts show. By mid-December, the immigration agency unswerving away announced the closing of the camp accompanied by no indeed indeed explanation. Migrants vanished from the town inside a matter of days.

    While the bivouac was open, some people said they spent days inside detention inside Tapachula earlier to getting there; others said they were released immediately. Some were released for free, others following paying up to USD500 to a lawyer.

    For Luilly Ismael Batista, it was the latter. The Dominican male said a friend recommended the legal practitioner who got him freed following nine days.

    A friend went not here accompanied by my credential; the legal practitioner called me on the loudspeaker, he said. The agents permit me go, nevertheless I had to inside attendance accompanied by my passport accompanied by every one one other accompanied by credentials to the legal practitioner while a guarantee to pay him when I was free.

    Later, he paid USD300 for transportation accompanied by every one one other accompanied by a guide to bypass concerning 10 immigration checkpoints on the way from Tapachula to San Pedro Tapanatepec. They moved us inside all kinds of vehicles, vans, cabs, motorcycles, Batista said.

    He said he got on a bus heading northern accompanied by his transit permit accompanied by every one one other accompanied by no indeed indeed money left. He didn™t know how he would stretch not here the U.S. border.

    I will sell my phone, I will sell my watch, I will sell whatever, he told AP. God will assist us, he will bless us, accompanied by every one one other accompanied by we will convey on accompanied by to go forward.

    It ended up actuality his last message to AP. His cellphone number no indeed indeed longer works.

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