Mexico: a new refuge for asylum seekers?
By Alicia Marie Salhi, cross-border Immigration lawyer
At the Comisión Mexicana de Ayuda a Refugiados (COMAR) or Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance in English, located in the Juarez neighborhood of Mexico city, stands a long line of individuals who have been forced to flee, expecting to apply for asylum.
A guide to seek protection in Mexico and special tips from my experience in the field
With 131,448 applications registered in 2021 as of November 2021 (Data COMAR December 2021), 86.84% more than in 2019 according to the Head of COMAR, Andrés Alfonso Ramírez Silva, Mexico became a country of destination and not only of transit nor origin.
Most of the asylum seekers are from Haiti, the Northern Triangle of Central America (Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador), followed by Cuba, Venezuela, and other countries such as Nicaragua, running away from gangs’ violence, criminal organization, violence against women, extortion, poverty, and natural disasters to escape to safety.
Who can apply?
Anyone, due to well-founded fears of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, gender, belonging to a certain social group or political opinions, could be recognized as a refugee in Mexico under the law of Refugees, Complementary Protection, and Political Asylum, including people who have fled their country of origin, because their life, safety or freedom have been threatened by generalized violence, foreign aggression, internal conflicts, massive violation of human rights or other circumstances that have seriously disturbed public order.
Mexico’s definition of a refugee or beneficiary of complementary protection is broader than the United States, making Mexico a more attractive destination for people in need of a new home.
How to seek asylum in Mexico?
If your life is in danger in your home country, you can apply at one of the 9 COMAR offices around the country or at the Immigration Regulation of the National Institute of Immigration (Instituto Nacional de Migración — INM) within 30 business days following your arrival to Mexico. But in reality, the start date can be the date you knew about COMAR or the asylum process. An exception applies if it was materially impossible for you to submit an application, but you would have to prove it.
You will be then requested to fill out a form explaining why you left your country. You should be as precise as possible. COMAR will give you an important document called “constancia” with a unique number “CURP”. With this precious document, you cannot normally be returned to your home country or in any country where your life is in danger, and you will be entitled to a work permit, a social security number, and have access to other public services in Mexico.
COMAR will then conduct two interviews: the “assistance interview” to identify your needs to facilitate your access to procedures and services and the most important, the “eligibility interview” to understand the reasons you left your country and why you are in danger if you go back to your home country. Since the pandemic, COMAR has conducted the assistance interview the same day you complete the first form.
COMAR has 45 business days to make a decision, but due to the global pandemic and until further notice, these terms are suspended. However, COMAR can process “urgent” applications for highly vulnerable populations in the context of global mobility more quickly.
Personal note: I remember accompanying an LGBTQ+ couple from Honduras. The entire procedure for them took approximately 3 weeks. They risked their lifes to arrive in Mexico and would have been in danger if they went back to their home country because of their sexual orientation. When they received a positive answer, I was waiting for them outside of the building. They screamed “yes we made it:’’ it was a pure moment of joy!
- You are recognized as a refugee in Mexico and are eligible for Permanent Residency;
- You are given “Complementary Protection” and are entitled to apply for Permanent Residency;
- Your petition is denied and you have the right to appeal the decision within 15 business days, starting the date of the notification.
Which organizations can assist you?
As a legal advisor for a Civil Society Organization, I did not have special access. In fact, when you look at the website of COMAR they explicitly tell you that you do not need the assistance of a lawyer to apply for asylum to prevent scams.
But please note that several actors can assist you for FREE. For a non-exhaustive list and depending on where you are in Mexico: UNHCR Mexico, Asylum Access Mexico (AAMX), Instituto para la Mujeres en la Migración (IMUMI), Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), Sin Fronteras I.A.P.
Although you have a risk of being detained, the waiting time can be extremely long, and you have to remain in the State where you submitted your application, Mexico continues to attract people in search of a better life.
On February 29, the chief of INM announced that Mexico will offer refuge to Ukrainians arriving and also that Ukrainians in the country will receive special attention “in order to understand and solve their legal stay”.
To be continued…
Learn More About Seeking Asylum in Mexico
Alicia Marie Salhi is a French citizen and cross border Immigration Lawyer. Admitted to the Paris Bar, though her immigration law experience widely covers the U.S. and Mexico.
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