US suspends border crossing appointments for asylum seekers after reports of extortion

The US government has stopped accepting appointments via mobile apps to admit asylum seekers at a Texas border crossing that connects to a notoriously dangerous Mexican city, after migrant advocates warned US authorities that there they were the object of extortion.

The Office of Customs and Border Protection of the United States (CBP for its acronym in English) did not provide any explanation for its decision to suspend the service to schedule new appointments through the One application of the agency for the border crossing of Laredo, Texas. .

Several asylum seekers told The Associated Press that Mexican officials in the city of Nuevo Laredo, which borders Laredo, Texas, had threatened to detain them and make them miss their appointments unless they gave them money. Laredo humanitarian groups said they recently notified CBP of the problems and that some groups were controlling access to the international crossing on the Mexican side.

Migrant advocates said the situation in Nuevo Laredo, which has been plagued by clashes between drug cartels, among other problems, calls into question the US government’s argument that Mexico is a safe place for record numbers of people fleeing. of violence in Central America and other parts of the world.

Rafael Álvarez, 29, who fled Venezuela, said that after he arrived in Nuevo Laredo in early June, Mexican immigration authorities at the city’s airport seized his travel documents, including a printout from a mail email confirming his appointment through the CBP One application, and they demanded that he pay 1,000 Mexican pesos, about $57. He was detained with other migrants.

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The officials, he said, threatened to keep him in custody so that he would miss his appointment. Álvarez, whose appointment was scheduled for the next day, said he refused to pay and was eventually released, but five Russians detained with him paid a total of 5,000 pesos, about $290. At first they had been asked to pay double that amount, but they told the officials they did not have that amount of money, the Venezuelan said.

Álvarez said that other Venezuelan friends who traveled to Nuevo Laredo in late May also had to give money to have their documents returned.

Thousands of asylum seekers are stranded in Mexican border cities, waiting until they can make an appointment to request asylum in the United States after being unable to do so due to a restriction implemented by the COVID-19 pandemic, called Title 42, which was withdrawn last month. past.

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