Asylum seekers victims of organized crime in Mexico’s border cities

A family of immigrants arrives from Honduras to a shelter for undocumented immigrants in Tenosique, Mexico. (PHOTO:

The Mexican border city of Nuevo Laredo continues to be a dangerous place for asylum seekers waiting to cross into the United States after being sent back to await the outcome of their petitions, according to a report released Tuesday.

Doctors Without Borders said that last September, it treated 41 people who were in the city under the program known as “remain in Mexico,” and that 18 of them, or 44%, reported being kidnapped recently. An additional 12% were victims of attempted kidnappings, the report said.

The following month, the figure of those saying they had been kidnapped increased to 75%, according to the report, and some of them were forced to work for their abductors.

“Just like the asylum seekers waiting their turn to enter the U.S. to initiate their claims, those who have been returned to Mexico while waiting for their application to be resolved also face serious risks and are systematically exposed to violence and potentially traumatic events,” Doctors Without Borders said.

Asked about the report Tuesday at a news conference in Washington, the acting commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Mark Morgan, disputed the finding that 75% of their patients had been kidnapped after being turned away from the southwest U.S. border.

“That’s not what we’re hearing and that’s not what we’re seeing,” he said.

Morgan said the U.S. is working with the Mexican government to encourage migrants to go to shelters instead of the makeshift tent cities that have cropped up along the Mexican side of the border. And he broadly defended U.S. policies that have turned tens of thousands of people away as they sought to enter the United States in recent months.

Nuevo Laredo is one of seven border points where the United States is returning asylum seekers under the program, which launched in January 2019 and has expanded practically the length of the frontier. Tamaulipas state, where Nuevo Laredo is located, is a stronghold of cartel activity.