Number of African migrants trying to reach U.S. through Mexico rises drastically

African migrants march to demand humanitarian visas that would enable them to cross Mexico on their way to the US, in Tapachula, Chiapas state, Mexico, in the border with Guatemala, on August 30, 2019. - A policeman, a migrant and two journalists were injured Tuesday during an eviction at a migrants detention center in Tapachula. Hundreds of Haitian and African migrants have protested since last week blocking the main entrance to the center preventing the entrance of buses with undocumented migrants and workers. (Photo by ISAAC GUZMAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read ISAAC GUZMAN/AFP via Getty Images)

The number of African migrants hoping to make their way to the United States through Mexico peaked at 5,800 over the past year, more than doubling from roughly 2,700 the year before, according to Mexican federal data reported by The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Between October 2018 and September 2019, Mexican immigration officials encountered a growing number of migrants from Cameroon, Sierra Leone, and the Congo, where violent conflict has forced more than half a million migrants to flee, seeking asylum.

Mexico has been tracking a rise in Black migrants since 2007, when it began including African migrants who came in contact with Mexican immigration officials in its annual migrant report. Still, immigration activists argue that migrants from Africa and majority Black nations have largely been shut out of the immigration debate.

“Even within the immigration movement, you see a lack of visibility of Black narratives with what’s happening at the border,” Guerline Jozef, director and co-founder of Haitian Bridge Alliance, told the outlet in a recent interview.

Jozef recalled a surprising phone call she received in 2016 about a group of Haitian migrants in Tijuana, Mexico. She said she could not wrap her mind around why they were in Tijuana and not Florida, the traditional route for migrants coming from the Caribbean.

In going to meet the dozen or so Haitians, Jozef was shocked to count over 400 Black immigrants at the border, not only from the Caribbean but from Africa, too.

“Now, almost four years later, we have thousands and thousands of Black migrants,” she added.

A report by migrants’ rights group Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) found that people from the Caribbean account for the largest share of immigrants entering the U.S. border, aside from Mexicans and Central Americans. The report, aptly titled “Black Lives at the Border,” highlights growing communities of Black refugees and migrants residing in Mexican border towns in hopes of getting to the other side.

The group cites a similar report by Voice of America, which “found that 19,000 African and Haitian migrants arrived in Mexico in 2016,” and that traffic has continued to grow.

Still, it’s unclear how many Black migrants are actually making it to the U.S. border. Custom and Border Protection data from 2018 shows just a small percent of migrants who encountered Mexican immigration officials were turned away by the U.S., with only 225 African migrants being labeled as “deportable aliens.” But new barriers to U.S. entry began to be erected this year, leaving African migrants especially hard hit.

Rebecca Alemayehu, a California immigration attorney who represents African asylum seekers, said most people are unaware of the plights of Black migrants face, including violence and race-based discrimination. Migrants were hit with another obstacle this August when the Mexican government — in response to demands from the Trump administration —stopped issuing African migrants transit visas letting them travel north to the U.S.-Mexico border, essentially leaving many of them “stuck” at Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala.

“Everything is stopped,” Alemayehu told the Tribune. “African migrants have actually camped in front of the immigration building there because they literally have nowhere else to go.”

Migrants are instead encouraged to apply for residency in Mexico, but a new rule passed by the Trump administration in July essentially prevents migrants from being granted asylum if they passed through any country other than their own before arriving to the States, according to Vox. This means that asylum seekers who show up at the southern border from any country but Mexico risk being denied asylum.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who visited Black migrants at the border in November, noted the increase also comes as the European Union is cracking down on immigration and “closing its doors to migrants.”

Alemayehu argued that what these migrants essentially need is more support.

“What I think for me is shocking and just really sad is that a lot of these asylum seekers just don’t have enough representation,” she added.