Thousands of migrants trying to make their way to the U.S.-Mexico border to seek asylum are claiming that Mexican officials are asking for money to allow them to proceed across bridges that would take them to a border checkpoint.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Mexican officials are also overseeing a waiting list of migrants seeking entry into the U.S., and if you want to bypass the wait-list, all you have to do is pay up.
“The asylum seekers and immigrant-rights advocates say that has put them at risk of extortion, discrimination, and deportation, with many telling of Mexican officials demanding money to let them pass and of watching others, further down the list, cross ahead of them,” the Times reported.
The Times claimed the waiting list protocol comes from the Trump administration as a way to delay entry to the migrants after a federal judge ruled that the U.S. could not enforce federal immigration law that does not allow asylum status to people who bypass official ports of entry and enter the country illegally.
But U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) told the Times the agency “processes undocumented persons as expeditiously as possible” and denied it was involved in selecting who from the list enters.
“Nationality has absolutely no bearing on the processing” of asylum seekers, and those on the lists are “processed on a first-come, first-serve basis,” the agency said.
CPB told the Times it “does take into consideration persons with medical emergencies, unaccompanied alien children, the disabled, and gives priority as we can, bearing in mind the day-to-day availability of resources, case complexity, holding space, port volume and enforcement actions.”
The waiting list, CPB officials said, is a way to manage the ongoing crush of migrants on two bridges from Mexico to the United States.
The Times reported:
Cuban asylum seeker Elvis Gonzalez Rodriguez said that when he arrived at the old bridge last week, a uniformed Mexican immigration official demanded he pay $1,000 to cross. Gonzalez, 23, refused, and the official made him leave. At the newer bridge, a backpack containing his passport and cash was stolen, he said. He returned to the old bridge and was forced off by Mexican immigration officials three more times.
Another Cuban asylum seeker said a uniformed Mexican immigration official demanded $500 to get her across the old bridge after she arrived at Matamoros airport in mid-October. She said she gave the official her passport and $300 at the airport, then got nervous.
“He didn’t seem trustworthy, so I left,” said Rosa Maria, 50, who did not give her full name for fear of retribution, according to the Times.
Rosa Maria said she had received calls on her cell phone from people who said they paid Mexican officials $100 to $300 to bypass being put on the list and to gain entry into the U.S.
“Cuban asylum seeker Leonardo Mederos, 30, said he paid a smuggler $4,000 to get him to a border bridge to the west in Reynosa, a Gulf cartel stronghold, where the smuggler assured him he would be able to cross and join relatives in Miami,” the Times reported.
CBP said of Mexican officials allegedly seeking payment from migrants: “Mexico is a sovereign nation, and our authorities do not cross international boundaries. Actions of Mexican officials, or people in Mexico, should be addressed to the government of Mexico including any actions taken on the Mexican side of bridges and in the border cities of Mexico.”