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Tracing The Migrant Journey: On The Ground In Guadalajara, Mexico

Series supported in part by Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust

During the month of August, reporters from KJZZ's Fronteras Desk will be taking us to some of the key places migrants are traveling in hopes of a better life in the U.S. The series "Tracing the Migrant Journey" continues in Guadalajara, Mexico.

MARK BRODIE: Today we're wrapping up the first week of our special series, "Tracing The Migrant Journey," from the Fronteras Desk. It's an in-depth look at migration from Central America through Mexico and the U.S. So far we've heard on-the-ground reporting from Honduras and the Guatemalan-Mexico border. Today KJZZ's Kendal Blust is with us in Guadalajara, Mexico, to talk about how migration is changing there. Kendal, good morning.

KENDAL BLUST: Good morning.

BRODIE: So, tell us a bit about exactly where you are and why it's an important stop on the migrant journey.

BLUST: I am here in beautiful, bustling Guadalajara, Mexico. It's Mexico's second largest city. It's a sprawling metropolis with huge modern high rises built up around old historic buildings. And it's been, for a long time, a major transit point for migrants on their way through Mexico to the United States — but that's been changing. It's gone from being a stopover point for migrants on their way to the U.S. to becoming a destination for asylum seekers from Central America. More and more are staying here instead of continuing their journey north.

BRODIE: So, who are these folks asking for asylum, and why exactly are they staying?

BLUST: So, in a lot of ways this ties back to what we've already been hearing this week. Hondurans are the largest group of asylum seekers in Mexico by far right now — about four times as many as the next largest group, which is from El Salvador. There are also Guatemalans and Nicaraguans, and people are saying they're fleeing violence and threats, mostly from gangs in their home country. One of the people I talked to this week is David Melendez. He's 20 years old, from El Salvador.

DAVID MELENDEZ: Por mas que me cuesta estar acá, o sea no puedo regresar a mi pais. Tengo que aguantar, sea lo que sea, porque se que mi vida corre riesgo en mi pais.

BLUST: He says as hard as it is to be away from home in Mexico, he has to endure it because his life is at risk if he goes back to his country. His dad is a police officer, and he says that's made his whole family a target for gang violence. And on top of that, like a lot of young men, he was being recruited by a gang. And he didn't want to join. So, he left, hoping to ask for asylum in the U.S. Instead, he found amped up immigration enforcement in Mexico. And he's seen a lot of migrants heading back south from the U.S. border, saying it's just too hard to cross right now. So, he decided to try for asylum here. And I'm hearing that from a lot of people in Guadalajara.

BRODIE: Now, Kendal, I understand that's a real shift from Mexico, which has not historically received high numbers of asylum seekers. What is that asylum process like there?

BLUST: Yeah, it's really hard. The asylum system in Mexico is overwhelmed, and it's underfunded. So the waits are really long. David, who we just heard from, he's been waiting more than seven months for his asylum application to be processed. And in the meantime, most of them don't have work permits. There is also a lot of relief and a lot of hope. Asylum seekers see this as a chance for a safe, dignified life in Mexico. But most of them wanted to reach the U.S. Nearly everybody has family there. And in Mexico, a lot of them are completely on their own. Maria Jose Lozcano is the outreach coordinator at one of the shelters I visited. She says the long waits and the lack of a social safety net, it makes a lot of asylum seekers really vulnerable.

MARIA JOSE LOZCANO: They cannot go back to their countries, and in Mexico, well, they don't have anything.

BRODIE: So, Kendal, how are asylum seekers responding to the situation? Do they seem to be sticking it out, or are people changing their minds?

BLUST: Well, most asylum seekers have invested a lot just to get to Mexico and to ask for asylum. And they're fleeing pretty horrible situations at home. But they face a lot of uncertainty about the outcomes of their cases and and whether asylum policies in Mexico or the U.S. could change any day. So, some people have gotten discouraged and given up on their asylum claims and gone back home. And a lot of others are still holding out hope that they can reach the U.S. This is Juan Carlos Fuentes. He's 22, from Honduras.

JUAN CARLOS FUENTES: La verdad. Si me saldría la oportunidad de poder viajar a los Estado Unidos, lo haría sin pensarlo.

BLUST: He was actually recently granted asylum in Mexico, because of the danger he's in back in Honduras. And, for now, he's planning to stay put here. But he says if he had the chance to travel to the United States he'd go, without even having to think about it.

BRODIE: All right. That is KJZZ's Kendall Blust in Guadalajara, Mexico. Kendal, thank you.

BLUST: Thank you, Mark.

BRODIE: And next week we'll be picking back up with our Fronteras Desk reporters on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. You can learn more about the series, "Tracing The Migrant Journey," online at journey.kjzz.org.

For more, follow KJZZ reporters on Twitter using the hashtag #MigrantJourney.

Kendal Blust was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2018 to 2023.