The opening of U.S. immigration processing centers in Colombia, Costa Rica and Guatemala ensures that more than ever these countries will become waiting rooms for asylum seekers who want U.S. visas.
Washington’s “safe mobility” initiative in Central America — the main thoroughfare for tens of thousands of people hoping to reach the U.S. without a visa — seeks to expand legal access for asylum seekers while keeping them away from the U.S. border s country.
The new scheme began on May 11, ending Article 42, which allows U.S. authorities to deport migrants across the border and deny them the right to seek asylum under rules put in place due to Covid-19 Pandemic.
Migrants must now seek virtual appointments on the movilidadsegura.org website, which is supported by the United Nations Refugee Agency and the International Organization for Migration.
New regional processing centers in Colombia and Guatemala will interview migrants seeking legal pathways into the U.S., Canada and Spain.
In Costa Rica, the Safe Mobility office will provide a path for Nicaraguans and Venezuelans to legally immigrate as long as they are in the country by June 12.
U.S. officials consider the new plan a success.
A State Department official said in context that it expanded the legal pathways for immigrants to obtain visas “rather than embark on dangerous journeys trying to enter illegally.”
Increased migrant flows to the United States from South America, mainly Venezuela and Ecuador, cross the Darien River, a dangerous jungle isthmus between Colombia and Panama.
A recent UN statement said more than 100,000 people have crossed the Darien by 2023, a sixfold increase from the same period last year.
U.S. officials believe the new processing center will make it easier for migrants to determine whether they have a legal path to the U.S. without putting their lives in the hands of smugglers.
Carlos Sandoval, an academic at the University of Costa Rica, told AFP that the move responded to a strategy to move immigration controls south to implement “more border controls before the actual border”.
“Mexico is the first border,” Sandoval said. But U.S. officials tried to “do border control in Guatemala as well, and now it’s pushing south.”
In March alone, more than 160,000 people tried to enter U.S. From Mexico, according to the U.S. State Department.
Contains the stream –
Three types of migrants congregate in Central America on their way to the United States, Sandoval said. There are people from Central America; people from South America, mainly Venezuela; and finally people from other parts of the world.
“Central America has been and will continue to be the waiting room,” he said.
Gabriela Oviedo, population mobility project coordinator at the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), said Guatemala, Costa Rica and Colombia would be strategic countries “to stem these flows of migration.”
Transit point –
The United States recommends that immigrants wait for processing in the host country, although there is no guarantee that they will get a visa.
The three countries will have to “help vulnerable refugees get the help they need” to gain legal status while they wait for “legal pathways to other countries, including the United States,” the State Department official said.
But in the colonial heart of Guatemala City, Diego Berrios, a 23-year-old Venezuelan, is asking for money to continue his journey north despite starting an immigration program.
He arrived in Guatemala a few days ago and hopes to reach the U.S.-Mexico border with his wife and daughters, one and eight, as soon as possible.
“In Guatemala, it’s just a transit point,” he told AFP.
Oviedo warned that it is “still unclear” how the machining centers will operate and what the procedures will be.
“We don’t know how long it will take them or what will happen to those who are denied these regular permits. There’s a lot of uncertainty,” she said.