US-Mexico border — a global entry point for asylum seekers

Published February 15, 2024
Migrants try to cross the Rio Grande from Ciudad Juarez, in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.—AFP
Migrants try to cross the Rio Grande from Ciudad Juarez, in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.—AFP

WASHINGTON: As political and racial persecution grew worse in his native Mauritania, Barry looked for a way out. Scouring discussion groups on social media for tips on clandestine migration, he soon found that the longtime standby of risky sea voyages in leaky open boats to Europe wasn’t the only option. There was the US — via Mexico.

The journey of Barry — who asked only to be identified by his first name — by land from Mexico in July reflects the growing reality of the southern US border becoming a global way station for asylum seekers, rather than only Latin American migrants.

Barry bypassed not only Europe but also the traditionally immigrant-heavy coastal cities, making his way to the midwestern capital of Columbus, Ohio -— home to a suddenly growing Mauritanian diaspora.

“I just want to get back my freedom of speech, my freedom of expression,” the former NGO and government worker said, citing crackdowns last year on activists and protesters by authorities in a West African country known for discrimination against its black citizens.

Over half of all 2.5m crossings in 2023 were made by those coming from outside the Americas

As rich countries struggle to adjust to an era of mass migration, authorities there often focus on lethal sea routes out of Africa to Europe and the long-standing flow north from impoverished Latin American countries.

But of the nearly 2.5 million crossings recorded by US Customs and Border Protection in fiscal year 2023, 1.26 million people originated from outside of the usual source-countries Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

That represents a 234 percent increase from 2021, when some 378,000 “other” country nationals crossed the southern border. For Africans specifically, more than 58,000 crossings were recorded by the Border Patrol in 2023 — a 346 percent jump compared to the year before.

About 15,000 of them were Mauritanians like Barry — more than the 13,000 Africans from the entire continent who had crossed the year before. There isn’t one specific driver for the arrival of tens of thousands of people from as far away as China, India and Russia on the Mexican-US border.

Much of the migration is at least initially legal: Barry flew to Turkey first, then South America, before making his way north overland. The ever-evolving routes are widely shared on social media — and, according to US border officials, via “pseudo-legitimate travel agencies” in West Africa.”

Published in Dawn, February 15th, 2024

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