MEXICO CITY — The armed, masked gang members showed up on a motorcycle at the home in northern Honduras last fall with a stark warning for the occupants: Leave town within 24 hours, or else.
Laura Maria Cruz Martinez, another single mother and the nine kids in their care hurriedly threw clothing and personal items into bags and made for the border before dawn, their home abandoned with the furniture and appliances left in place.
Nine months later they’re together again in two adjacent apartments in a working-class neighborhood of eastern Mexico City. It hasn’t always been easy adjusting to this megalopolis of 20 million-plus, with its crowded subway and unfamiliar, slang-heavy Spanish, but at least they’re safe from the gangs rampaging back home.
All eleven were recognized as refugees by Mexico in March and granted asylum, making them part of a growing wave of refugees from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala who are resettling here instead of trying to reach the United States, which many see as increasingly hostile.
The rise in refugee resettlement in Mexico has paralleled a decrease in immigration to the United States, with apprehensions by U.S. Border Patrol down sharply at the frontier — especially of unaccompanied children and families like Cruz’s.
Under President Donald Trump, U.S. authorities have sought to ramp up immigration enforcement and decrease the number of refugees. Last week Thomas Homan, acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, warned that those who enter the U.S. illegally “should not be comfortable” and “should be concerned that someone is looking for you.”
“I do think there are fewer people deciding to focus their sights on the United States precisely because it has projected itself as being an unwelcoming country,” said Maureen Meyer, a senior associate for Mexico at the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights-focused organization.
After Mexico received 3,424 applications for refugee status in 2015, that rose to 8,794 the following year and applications are already outpacing that this year with 5,464 just from January to May.
Nearly all are people from the so-called Northern Triangle countries of Central America, where street gangs are largely free to terrorize the population and murder rates are some of the world’s highest outside of open war zones. The Mexico office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees believes the country could receive 20,000 requests by year’s end.
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