Editor’s note: This story has been corrected. The surname of Panama’s Foreign Minister is Mouynes, not Mouyes.
EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Panama’s Foreign Minister was in Washington, D.C., this week to discuss migration and security issues with U.S. federal officials.
She then went on to tell American news outlets there’s a new wave of 60,000 citizens of Haiti and other countries making their way to the U.S. border.
“We have seen the growing phenomenon of irregular migration and have gained the attention of key actors,” Erika Mouynes said in a statement released by the Foreign Ministry after her meetings with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Special Envoy to Northern Triangle countries Ricardo Zuniga and others.
Mouynes told reporters more than 85,000 migrants headed north have passed through Panama since Jan. 1. With some 20,000 having already crossed into the U.S. at Del Rio, Texas, and other places, she said the rest are likely on the way.
U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas, said Mouynes also met with him and said her country has seen a huge spike in migrants passing through, from 800 a month to 20,000 a month recently. He says she told him some individuals with ties to Al-Qaeda intent on traveling to the United States were apprehended in Panama.
“Minister Mouynes provided incredibly helpful insight into what Panama has been experiencing as a part of this migrant crisis,” said Gonzales, who represents Texas’ 23rd Congressional District, which includes East El Paso County. “I urge the Biden Administration to work with her, as well as her counterparts in other countries, to find a solution to the collective crisis our countries are facing.”
The Darien Gap in Panama, a wilderness area in the isthmus, is a popular crossing for migrants making their way north out of South America.
No caravans spotted in Southern Mexico, but migrant flow constant
In Tapachula, Mexico, activists say 800 Haitian and Central American migrants have been crossing the Guatemalan border every day. Shelters are full and frustration is growing with the Mexican government’s slow pace of issuing permits so the Haitians can get past National Guard and National Immigration Institute checkpoints.
“These are persons in need, they left their country, and under the law, refugees must be protected. We hope they are respected and treated according to law,” immigrant activist Irineo Mujica said in an interview broadcast Wednesday on Twitter.
Mujica, a U.S. citizen and Mexico director of Pueblo Sin Fronteras, says he’s helped 1,500 Haitians file legal writs known as amparos so they’re allowed to leave Tapachula. Dozens of Central American and Haitian migrants could be seen on Wednesday at Tapachula’s Bicentennial Park waiting to fill out paperwork and getting medical services from volunteers.
Border Report on Thursday spoke on the phone with human rights defenders and journalists in Tapachula. They said they have seen no caravans as such, but that the daily flow of new migrants remains in the hundreds despite a recent dip coinciding with the aftermath of the events in Del Rio.
“The migrants are coming here from Guatemala, and Guatemala now is cracking down on migration. Also, the (smugglers) have increased their fees. They normally charge $3 to get them across the Suchiate River (between Mexico and Guatemala), but now they’re charging them $10,” said a local newspaper editor.
The journalist said these factors have slowed down the daily flow of migrants from the 800 who were coming a few days ago to around 500 now. A human rights defender, though, said he expects the flows to pick up and remain high for the next three years. That’s because, in addition to recent natural and sociopolitical disasters in Haiti, jobs have been drying up for them in South America due to the aftereffects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is the tip of the iceberg,” the activist said. You can read his story Friday on Border Report.