In Agua Prieta, Mexico, difficult situation for migrants continues and the need for accompaniment is still great

A week ago today, PPF Accompaniment Coordinator Alison Wood and Communications Manager Katie Blanchard were in Agua Prieta, Mexico, meeting with partners there to coordinate and talk about next steps for accompaniment. As PPF commits to providing at least another nine months of accompaniment in Agua Prieta, we wanted to share some updates from the meeting with accompaniment partners last week.

When PPF began accompaniment in Agua Prieta in May, there were around 160 migrants staying at the shelter called the Centro de Atención del Migrante “Exodus” (CAME), even though the capacity is 44. Currently, there are about 40-50 people staying at CAME, and our partners there are hoping that they can keep the number of guests within their range of capacity.

Although the number of migrants at CAME is lower, the number of migrants in the city of Agua Prieta is more or less steady and the danger to them is still great. In addition to extortion by cartels, it is thought by CAME that some people are being detained at newly-established check-points located just south of Agua Prieta and run by the Mexican government. Another new development in the situation in Agua Prieta over the last few months is the presence of the Mexican National Guard, as ordered by Trump, that intimidates rather than helps migrants and our partners at CAME (see more about the National Guard’s attempt to enter CAME in an accompanier report from July 6 by Tricia Lloyd-Sidle and Barbara Clawson).

Drawing of a local Mexican volunteer and a US accompanier taking water to people waiting in La Linea. Art by Katie Blanchard, PPF Communications Manager.

There has been virtually no change in the number of migrants who are allowed into the United States. If anything, the rate has slowed as the metering process continues to be the policy of the United States. The majority of the migrants who come through Agua Prieta are from Guerrero, Mexico, fleeing violence there. There are also many Russian migrants. The lowest number are from Central America.

The risk to migrants of being kidnapped and/or extorted while traveling by bus and at bus stations remains high, and migrant support groups like CAME are recommending that people not travel by bus. Once in Agua Prieta, the highest risk to migrants comes when they travel to and from CAME and La Linea. La Linea (“the line”) is where people wait during the day just outside of the US Port of Entry when their number is one of the next to be called in the metering process. This is one way that the presence of accompaniers has been useful–to accompany migrants to and from La Linea when it is their turn to wait. The presence of accompaniers in this step of the process provides protection to both the migrants and the local volunteers.

The presence of accompaniers who are visibly associated with a larger group (accompaniers wear vests that make them visible and the car they drive is clearly marked as a church vehicle) locates the work within a larger church context, indicating that neither the Catholic church nor CAME are alone in serving asylum seekers. Our partners noted that this clear international network of church support decrease the risk to local volunteers. 

Our partners say that accompaniment has absolutely been helpful in decreasing the risk to individual volunteers and staff with CAME. 

Participants and Accompaniment Coordinator Alison Wood at the most recent Learn-and-Discern event in Tucson this past weekend.

We continue to recruit and train accompaniers to serve in Agua Prieta (as well as in Colombia, where we have been accompanying the Iglesia Presbiteriana de Colombia for 15 years). The accompaniment efforts in both Agua Prieta and Colombia is done in partnership with PC(USA) World Mission. 

The next opportunity to learn and discern about accompaniment in Agua Prieta and Colombia (required before being an accompanier) will take place October 11-14 in Montreat, North Carolina. Please consider serving as an accompanier or sharing information with people who you know who might like to accompany. Accompaniment is one direct and meaningful way that people in the US can be in solidarity with migrants, resisting the racist and exclusionary policies of the United States. 

[Background on PPF’s accompaniment work in Agua Prieta: In late March, PPF received a request for accompaniment from the community in Agua Prieta who was experiencing (and continues to experience) threats from local cartels. You can read more about the initial request for accompaniment, but the long-and-short of the situation is this: local cartels extort migrants who are traveling through Mexico on their way to the United States. There is a network of migrant shelters in northern Mexico, and when they provide shelter for those migrants it protects them from the cartels. When the migrants are protected from extortion, the cartel sees it as the shelter making them lose money they would otherwise have gained through extortion. The shelter in Agua Prieta is called Centro de Atención del Migrante “Exodus” (CAME), and the local cartel began threatening the staff of the shetler earlier this year, which is why they requested international accompaniment. When US citizens are present, accompanying the shelter staff and volunteers and the migrants, it decreases the risk to those people at very little risk to the US citizens.] 

This report was updated at 7:55 p.m. on 8/20/2019 after first being posted at 5:15 on 8/20/2019. The number of migrants in Agua Prieta is actually not decreasing as we had first included in this report, but the number of people staying at CAME is more stable, allowing them to better serve the people who are at the shelter. The situation in Agua Prieta remains dangerous and difficult for people who are trying to get to the United States.