Mexico faces crisis of migrant children and families

Justin Soler, 12, alongside the freight-train tracks in Coatzacoalcos in Mexico's Veracruz state, a migrant hub en route to the U.S. border. Many migrants try to hitch rides here on passing freight trains, a dangerous effort. (Liliana Nieto del Rio / For The Times)

After a weeks-long trip from her native Honduras, Juana Cruz Funez couldn’t understand why she and her daughter, Itzy, 8, had been denied their goal — entry into the United States.

“I heard people could stay in America if we came with our children,” a sobbing Cruz said moments after the U.S. Border Patrol expelled mother and child back across the Rio Grande to this Mexican border city.

Cruz, 40, and her daughter were among the ranks of hundreds of migrants, almost all Central Americans — mostly women and children — squatting in a public square a block from the Rio Grande here.

In the United States, the debate about the Southwest border has focused on an almost two-decade high in Border Patrol apprehensions, along with a sharp uptick in arrivals of families and unaccompanied minors.

A child holds a plate of food while other children and adults are lined up nearby
Migrant children in Plaza de la República in Reynosa, Mexico, line up for food. Some private volunteers provide food and medical care as overwhelmed Mexican authorities offer few resources. (Liliana Nieto del Rio / For The Times)

But with most migrants, including the Cruz family, quickly returned under pandemic health protocols, Mexico is facing its own crisis — an escalating humanitarian emergency caused by what authorities and advocates call an unprecedented increase in migrant families traversing its territory.

The Mexican government has failed to develop a strategy to care for the tens of thousands of migrant women and children expelled by U.S. authorities or in transit or stuck somewhere in Mexico. Instead, Mexican authorities have mostly outsourced the task to an over-stretched patchwork of private and religious charity outfits, medical aid organizations and sundry good Samaritans.

Shelters across Mexico are packed, amid reduced capacity because of the pandemic, and groups providing food and medical care strain to meet an acute need. The social safety net for migrants in Mexico has long been flimsy, but the problem has worsened as the number of people on the move has grown.

Honduran migrants try to negotiate a ride heading north outside Palenque in southern Mexico.
Honduran migrants Eduardo Gallardo (holding daughter Maryereli, 3 months old) and another family try to negotiate a ride heading north outside Palenque in southern Mexico. They had been traveling for more than three weeks since leaving Honduras. (Liliana Nieto del Rio / For The Times)

“Mexico has neither applied the resources or shown the will to deal with this,” said Jorge Vidal Arnaud, Mexico coordinator for Save the Children, the London-based charity. “The situation for migrant families and minors in Mexico is very grave.”

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