Monday, March 09, 2009

Mexicans seek asylum from surging violence in Ciudad Juarez

Although Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, Texas are separated by the US-Mexico border, the two cities compose one of the largest bi-national metropolitan areas in the world. Before the end of 1848 U.S.-Mexican war, they were the same town, El Paso del Norte. Although they have seen been broken up to form two cities, each day 60,000 still people travel between these two cities.

Despite their proximity, reality is much different depending on which side of the fence you live on. Although Ciudad Juarez’s economy has been doing well in recent years, violence has escalated. Beginning with the brutal killings of more than 400 women and children since 1993 in what has been deemed by some as a “feminicide,” violence has been rising in the area. A recent surge in violence has left 350 people dead in Ciudad Juarez this year alone and 1,000 across the country. Last year, the drug violence was so brutal that 6,290 people lost their lives in Mexico. This article explains the situation in the morgues in Ciudad Juarez, which has gotten so bad that the morgue is forced to turn corpses away:

As the violence continues to increase, more and more people are coming to El Paso to seek asylum in the US. According to a BBC article, “Drug-related violence in Mexico has become so extreme that some policemen and journalists would rather sit in a cell at a US immigration detention centre than run the risk of being caught in the crossfire between rival gangs in their home country.” One journalist who is currently living in El Paso on temporary visa notes that, “I would prefer seven months in jail because it’s a matter of life and death.”

The asylum cases that we are working on involve people from countries that are located far away from the United States, in some cases half way around the globe. Fleeing from land only separated from the US by a fence, these asylum seekers from Ciudad Juarez are a large contrast to what we have seen.

My question is whether the asylum process should be different for them or does it not matter if the asylum seekers comes from .01 miles outside the US or 10,000 miles? To me, I think that we need to pay special attention and give consideration to our neighbors in this process. In addition, the US should continue its effort to control the drug war in Mexico. Along with the obvious concern that the violence could spill over to US soil, it’s impossible not to see what is going on there. As Ciudad Juarez is physically visible from the United States, I hope that we do not turn a blind eye to the situation there.


Elle said...

Great article, Kiki. This is an interesting case because, as you point out, these asylum seekers come from less than a mile away. The violence in El Paso is a serious problem. I think that is is completely appropriate for these people to apply for asylum. The journalists mentioned in the article have a political opinion, or imputed political opinion demonstrated by the stories they have written. This is a clear basis for asylum. Unfortunately, the current system takes a long time and many end up sitting in detention centers for months or years. Because the border runs through this town the US government has an especially strong interest in controlling violence. What would happen if all the residents tried to cross the border and claim asylum? I think that something has to be done but potential solutions seem to pose more problems. Should the US police the Mexican side of El Paso? This would cost money and put more lives at risk, but it would curb violence and thus flight. Should the US allow residents to live on the US side of the border until the violence subsides? This would create other problems when it is time for the Mexicans to return (see other blog post about Liberians). Maybe there should be some type of expedited process for Mexicans fleeing border violence. Again, this requires resources and in the current economy, I can't imagine that this would be a priority.

Dr. D said...

I agree!
So what do we do?

Sophia said...

I like the ideas Elle has suggested. The world is a chaotic place and as Kiki has mentioned, violence occurs close to our borders. The situation is exactly that, a situation that needs a prescription. I believe that the right prescription would be to give an expedited process for select locations in Mexico near the US border. These people are being persecuted and need protection. Our spacial location should give levity to the situation and I am hopeful that legislation will pass that will help these people.

Elle said...

Sophia, I admire your positive outlook when you suggest that legislation may pass giving certain Mexicans an expedited process. I am far less optimistic. I don't believe that the political will exists in Washington to do anything more than keep American (ie US) citizens safe. Latin America has occupied a back burner position for too long. The recent outbreak of violence is only the latest issue in a long succession of unfortunate events that have defined US-Mexican relations. I don't think that Mexicans will get an expedited asylum process. They will continue to enter the country, dying in higher numbers as they traverse more and more dangerous roots. They will continue to be met with hostility. They will struggle to rebuild a semblance of a life. Because they aren't legal, the US will afford them no care or services. For many, this is the best alternative. Other options include remaining in violent border towns, or wasting away in immigration detention.
With the new stimulus plan and political attention concentrated on the economy, education and the environment, I don't see a change in the near future.

Kiki L. said...

I have to agree with Ellen. The motivation behind the United States’ response is to protect our own border. As violence escalates, it is increasingly spilling over and effecting American border communities and it seems like this is the sole motivation behind intervening, ignoring any humanitarian concerns. Furthermore, the response does not seem to be taken immediate humanitarian concerns related to violence into account and instead is focused on a military response. The Homeland Security Secretary Janet Naplitano has validated both points by saying, “Our role is to assist in this battle because we have our own security interests in its success.”

So what’s the answer? There was an interesting article on CNN in which one man says that legalizing drugs is the answer:

Basically, he argues that prohibiting drugs has driven the drug market underground and those involved cannot settle their dispute through legal methods. They therefore are forced to turn to the violence and work outside of the law, which is what we are now seeing. In a legal system were drugs are allowed but monitored and taxed, violence would no long exist. While his ideas are obviously an extreme view, he does make some valid points that get at the heart of solving this issue instead of just ameliorating the symptoms closest to the United States.

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