The number of Nicaraguans migrating to the United States has been multiplied by eight, if we compare the first quarters of 2021 and 2022 in terms of the number of migrants apprehended by US immigration authorities at that country’s southern borders. From January to April of last year, a total of 6,433 migrants from Nicaragua were registered at the border; meanwhile, from January to April of the current year, they totaled 53,714 according to data released from the US Customs and Border Protection Office.
The numbers of Nicaraguans leaving the country reached a record last year, when more than 120,000 left for other countries, with the destination of choice being the United States. That year, there were 87,530 Nicaraguans detained at the US border. This strong tendency continued in 2022, surpassing an average of 10,000 Nicas registered each month – more than 300 each day.
The significant increase in Nicaraguans emigrating comes amid the deepening sociopolitical crisis that has persisted in the country since 2018, when massive citizen protests were crushed by the Ortega- Murillo regime’s repression. The government’s violent crackdown left over 355 dead, thousands of wounded, hundreds of political prisoners, and tens of thousands of people displaced.
In 2021, as the presidential elections approached in Nicaragua, the regime ramped up their repression, imprisoning the seven leading candidates that had aspired to run against Daniel Ortega. Authorities also jailed business leaders, journalists, human rights advocates, diplomats, political analysts, and civic leaders. At the same time, they consolidated a de facto police state. In the electoral process that resulted, an estimated 80% of eligible Nicaraguan citizens opted not to go to the polls, according to the independent organization Urnas Abiertas [Open Ballot Boxes]. The international community considered the resulting “victory” of Ortega and Murillo a political farce.
Those repressive waves sparked the first significant increase in migration, and from that point on, it hasn’t slowed. The repression continues as well, and the persecution has sharpened, especially against civil society, with the cancelation of 199 NGOs in 2022 alone, and a fresh wave of attacks against the Catholic Church.
Adding to the sociopolitical crisis is a severe economic downturn. After three years of recession in Nicaragua, there’s a dearth of formal employment and a rise in the cost of living. Currently, the cost of supplying a household with basic goods is estimated at US $184 more than the highest minimum wage offered in Nicaragua.
Nicaraguans continue leaving their country in favor of an uncertain journey to the United States. It’s now the preferred destination, leaving Costa Rica in second place with 20,000 requests for asylum filed by Nicaraguans between January and March of this year. This tendency continues, despite the sizable risks entailed in this nearly 2,500-mile journey to the US border.
The last months have seen an increase in denunciations from the families of some migrants who are kidnapped by cartels or criminal bands in Mexico. They have also denounced the inhumane conditions in which some coyotes have transported them, putting their lives at risk. A tragic example was that of Clorinda Alarcon, a 20-year-old pregnant mother who died of asphyxiation this past March, while locked in the back of a large truck with dozens of other migrants, including children.
In recent weeks, at least 20 Nicaraguans have also drowned in the Rio Grande, the river that marks the border between the US and Mexico. Migrants heading to many of the major US border posts must cross this river in order to surrender themselves to the US authorities and ask for asylum. Their only other choice, attempting an illegal crossing, also involves crossing this river.
Added to these life-threatening obstacles are those resulting from the US Government’s immigration policies, aimed at slowing the flow of migrants that has been estimated at 900,000 people in the first months of 2022 alone.
In December 2021, the United States reestablished an immigration policy officially called Migrant Protection Protocols, more commonly known as “remain in Mexico”. This policy forces migrants seeking asylum in the United States to remain in Mexico, while US immigration judges process their applications.
From then on, this policy has disproportionally affected Nicaraguan migrants, who represent over 60% of those turned back. A total of over 3,000 Nicaraguans were returned to wait in Mexican border cities since December.
Reporters from Confidencial visited one of these cities, Ciudad Juarez, and spoke with two young people who were fleeing Nicaragua due to political persecution. They had been sent back from the border to live in shelters with limited conditions, fearfully aware that they’re in one of the world’s most dangerous cities. US authorities didn’t respond to our request to learn the reasons why Nicaraguans make up the majority of those who’ve been sent back under this policy.
The other US norm aimed at stemming the flow of migrants into that country is Title 42, a provision that has been in force since the pandemic began in 2020. Title 42 refers to a public health statute that allows the US government to bar people from entering the country during public health emergencies. Despite some attempts on the part of the Biden administration to end the use of this norm to turn away migrants, a Louisiana judge ruled on May 21 that it must continue to be enforced. They’re not deportations, but nearly immediate removals, in which the migrants end up back in Mexico or sent by air to their countries of origin.
Organizations that defend migrant rights have accused the measure of violating human rights, since it contradicts the right of people to ask for international protection. In fact, according to another U.S. court order made public early in March 2022, migrant families with children can’t be expelled under Title 42 if they express fears of being persecuted or tortured if returned to their country. Such family groups must be interviewed by asylum officials.
The U.S. borders “aren’t open”, and the country continues removing migrants “when appropriate” under Title 42. According to a message and two-minute video posted on Twitter May 24, by Alejandro Mayorkas, US secretary of Homeland Security: “the U.S. continues to enforce its immigration laws and restrictions on our southern border have not changed. Individuals and families continue to be subject to border restrictions, including expulsion.”
Article Includes information from EFE
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