Hurricane Rick loses steam as it moves further inland Mexico

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -Hurricane Rick’s strong winds lost some steam as the storm moved further inland on Monday, though its heavy rains still had the potential to trigger flash flooding and mudslides, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) and local authorities said.

Rick was packing maximum sustained winds of 80 miles per hour (130 km/h), down from 105 mph, and was some 40 miles (65 kilometers) north of the port of Lazaro Cardenas in Michoacán state as of 10:00 A.M. local time (1500 GMT), the Miami-based NHC said in a public advisory.

The storm came ashore on Mexico’s Pacific coast earlier in the day.

“Rapid weakening is expected today while Rick continues to move over land, and Rick is forecast to dissipate over the mountainous terrain of southern Mexico tonight or Tuesday,” the NHC said.

Rick is forecast to move farther inland over southern Mexico throughout Monday and possibly into Tuesday, and is expected to produce 5 to 10 inches of rain, with isolated storm total amounts of 20 inches across parts of the Mexican states of Guerrero and Michoacán through Tuesday.

The heavy rains “will likely produce flash flooding and mudslides,” the NHC said.

The heavy rains may trigger landslides, raise the water levels of rivers and streams, and cause flooding in low-lying areas, Mexico’s National Water Commission, CONAGUA, said in a statement.

CONAGUA urged residents in the southern parts of those states to heed the civil protection agency warning to stay indoors as of Sunday evening.

Guerrero’s education ministry said classes in the coastal area would be suspended on Monday, warning of intense rain, strong gusts of wind and high waves in the Costa Grande region.

Officials in Guerrero and Michoacán as well as the coastal states of Colima, Jalisco and Nayarit were opening shelters in areas expected to get downpours, a government official told Televisa News.

(Reporting by Anthony Esposito; editing by Barbara Lewis and Chizu Nomiyama)

Mexico celebrates November U.S. border opening, date to be decided

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Wednesday cheered a U.S decision to open their shared border in November after more than a year of pandemic restrictions, but added that the precise date was still being worked out.

“The opening of the northern border has been achieved, we are going to have normality in our northern border,” Lopez Obrador said in his daily morning press conference.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas earlier said U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico would reopen in November for fully vaccinated travelers after being closed to non-essential crossings since March 2020 due to the pandemic.

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said the border reopening will coincide with a push to reactivate economic activities in the frontier region, where Mexico has made a vast effort to bring vaccination rates in line with the United States.

He said high-level bilateral economic meetings taking place in November will focus on the border region. Other meetings will be held in coming days to work out details of the reopening.

Ebrard said Mexico had been strongly pushing Washington for the border to reopen, including laying out proposals during a visit by U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris.

The United States “have accepted many proposals that we made along the way to achieve this,” Ebrard said, without giving details.

(Reporting by Ana Isabel Martinez; writing by Drazen Jorgic; editing by Frank Jack Daniel)

Their prospects dim, Haitian migrants strain Mexico’s asylum system

By Daina Beth Solomon

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico could see asylum applications jump 70% this year compared with 2019 as requests from Haitians soar, though most of those Caribbean migrants do not meet the criteria under current rules, according to Mexico’s top asylum official.

Haiti is currently the second-most common country of origin for asylum requests in Mexico, and is on track to overtake Honduras to claim the top spot for the first time in nearly a decade.

The surge has been fed by political and economic malaise in Haiti and South America, and last month thousands of mostly Haitian migrants crossed into Del Rio, Texas.

Thousands then retreated back to Mexico to avoid being deported from the United States to Haiti.

Most Haitians do not qualify for asylum in Mexico because they left home years ago for economic reasons, said Andres Ramirez, head of the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance (COMAR).

Most resettled in Brazil and Chile after Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake and are heading north due to poor economic prospects in their adopted countries, Ramirez told Reuters.

“They’re not really refugees, they don’t even want to be refugees,” Ramirez said in an interview on Monday. “The majority want to get to the United States.”

Haitians were seeking asylum because they had no alternative, but the demand had brought COMAR to a standstill, which was “detrimental to genuine refugees, who we can’t serve because there are too many Haitians,” he added.

Asylum applications are now taking six to seven months, at least twice the time they should take, he said.

In the southern border city of Tapachula, where most migrants request asylum, COMAR is scrambling to lighten the load by canceling appointments of applicants no longer there.

COMAR is in talks with Mexico’s migration authorities and international aid organizations to see if Haitians have options for staying in Mexico aside from asylum, Ramirez said, such as humanitarian visas that let migrants work and travel freely.

Lasting one year and renewable, that visa is currently only available to migrants after they apply for asylum with COMAR.

“What concerns me is when I know someone isn’t a refugee, and they come to us because they have no other option,” Ramirez said. “But there could be another way… there is a precedent.”

Mexico distributed humanitarian visas in early 2019 when thousands of Central Americans arrived in migrant caravans, but stopped after U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to impose trade tariffs if Mexico did not curb the flow of people.

The Biden administration is also putting pressure on Mexico to stem migrant traffic, even as it gradually rolls back Trump-era measures and promises more humane migration policies.

Mexico’s National Migration Institute did not immediately respond when asked if it was considering issuing humanitarian visas to Haitian migrants.

Asylum applications in Mexico from all nationalities reached 90,300 by September. Ramirez estimated the number could surpass 120,000 by year’s end.

Suppressed by the coronavirus pandemic, applications tumbled to just over 41,000 last year, but rose for Haitians, who filed 5,957 requests. From January to September 2021, the number of Haitian applications leapt to 26,007.

An increase in requests from Brazilians and Chileans has been fueled by children born to Haitians in those countries, Ramirez said.

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Dave Graham and Alistair Bell)

Mexico seeks reciprocity from U.S. on security, minister says before talks

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico will work during high-level security talks this week to ensure “reciprocity” from the United States on matters such as arms trafficking and extraditions, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Tuesday.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas and Attorney General Merrick Garland will be among the delegation of top U.S. officials due to hold meetings in Mexico City on Friday.

Reiterating that it was time to “leave behind” the so-called Merida Initiative, a U.S.-Mexican scheme providing funds for military expenditure, Ebrard said Mexico was ushering in a new “symmetrical and respectful” phase in security cooperation.

Ebrard said Mexico had 10 priorities essentially aimed at reducing violence, and wanted to ensure that there was “reciprocity in controlling arms trafficking, reciprocity in legal assistance, reciprocity in extraditions, and so on”.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has promoted a non-confrontational approach to combating chronic gang violence in Mexico, arguing that economic development is the most effective way of reducing the appeal of organized crime.

(Reporting by Dave Graham; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

For asylum advocates, border expulsions strain faith in Biden

By Mica Rosenberg and Kristina Cooke

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Confused and tired-looking toddlers clung to their parents at Port-au-Prince airport in Haiti on Tuesday, among the 360 family members rapidly expelled from the U.S. over the past three days.

These scenes came after U.S. border agents on horseback on Sunday used whip-like reins to block Haitian migrants wading across the Rio Grande with food and supplies from Mexico to a squalid encampment with nearly 10,000 people on the Texas side.

The images triggered anguish among some current U.S. officials interviewed by Reuters who said they once had high hopes that U.S. President Joe Biden would quickly reverse the hardline immigration policies of his Republican predecessor Donald Trump and, as he promised, “restore humanity and American values” to the immigration system.

Outside the government, disillusioned immigration advocates point to Biden’s refusal to repeal Trump’s most sweeping policy known as Title 42 – that allows border agents to quickly expel most migrants to Mexico or their home countries without a chance to apply for asylum.

Biden extended the March 2020 policy put in place by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, arguing it remained necessary as a public health measure amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These deterrence (and) expulsion measures deny due process to asylum seekers and place them in harm’s way. That is a human rights violation,” Michael Knowles, president of AFGE Local 1924, the union that represents the asylum officers at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) told Reuters.

“Our members are outraged by the mistreatment of migrants and the refusal of our border authorities to allow them to have their asylum claims heard.”

Three other USCIS employees expressed similar concerns to Reuters, as did an official at another government agency.

Asylum officers interview migrants and refugees to determine if they need protection in the United States, while Border Patrol or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents oversee border security and detention.

Top Democratic lawmakers joined in the criticism. The dwindling goodwill among allies comes as Biden’s immigration agenda was dealt a blow on Sunday when the Senate parliamentarian ruled Democratic proposals to give legal status to millions of immigrants in the United States could not be included in a budget reconciliation bill.

‘WHAT DO THEY BELIEVE IN?’

Biden did exempt unaccompanied children from Title 42 expulsions early in his presidency. But he has included families, even after a federal judge on Thursday ordered the government to stop expelling them. The administration is appealing the order.

A two-week stay on the order was “to allow the government time to organize itself,” said Lee Gelernt, the lead attorney from the American Civil Liberties Union suing the administration over the policy, “not to round up as many people as possible to expel them, and certainly not to expel desperate Haitian asylum seekers.”

The Trump administration argued many asylum claims were false and issued a flurry of policies to limit protections, moves that were often criticized by the USCIS’ union headed by Knowles.

One of the USCIS officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the press said it was understood it would take time to roll back the Trump-era measures, but that some are now losing patience in the face of slow reform.

“It’s appalling, disgusting,” the official said. “What do they believe in, if this is acceptable?” Some colleagues were considering whether to leave their jobs, the official said.

Another USCIS official spoke of being “personally mortified.”

USCIS referred a request for comment to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), who did not immediately respond.

RECORD CROSSINGS

On Tuesday, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Title 42 was being applied to the fullest extent possible, while at the same time condemning the actions of the agents on horseback saying the incident was being investigated and those involved had been assigned administrative duties.

As Biden is facing criticism from the left, Republicans say he has encouraged illegal migration by moving too fast to reverse other Trump-era immigration reforms.

In recent months, the number of crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border increased to 20-year highs with close to 200,000 encounters in August alone, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data, though that is counting individuals who may have crossed multiple times.

Early in his presidency, Biden took several executive actions cheered by immigration groups – such as ending Trump’s travel bans on several Muslim-majority countries and scrapping a policy that sent asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for U.S. court hearings. He also exempted unaccompanied minors from Title 42 expulsions and reduced the number of families being expelled.

In a letter to Congress, retired Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott said Biden’s reversals created a crisis at the border and constituted “a national security threat.” Unlike the USCIS union, the unions representing border and ICE agents have been vocal Trump backers.

Earlier this year, Biden also extended deportation relief to around 150,000 Haitians already living in the United States with Temporary Protected Status, though the benefits do not apply to anyone who arrived after July 29.

Biden acknowledged conditions are dire in the Caribbean country that has long struggled with violence and recently suffered a presidential assassination and a major earthquake.

(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg in New York; Additional reporting by Kristina Cooke in San Francisco; Editing by Donna Bryson and Aurora Ellis)

U.S. and Mexico fly Haitian migrants away from border as pressure builds on Biden

By Daina Beth Solomon

CIUDAD ACUNA, Mexico (Reuters) – Mexico and the United States were on Wednesday preparing to fly more Haitian migrants away from chaotic U.S.-Mexico border camps, as pressure mounted on U.S. President Joe Biden to stop expulsions of Haitians to their poor, disaster-hit homeland.

U.S. authorities have deported more than 500 Haitians since Sunday from a camp housing thousands of mostly Haitian migrants on the U.S. side of border, by the small Texan city of Del Rio.

Such deportation flights back to Haiti would continue, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said.

At the same time, Mexico has begun flying migrants away from the U.S. border, as well as sending some by bus, towards its border with Guatemala in the south.

U.S. politicians have criticized Biden’s handling of the situation with some opponents calling it a “disaster.”

U.S. authorities have ordered an investigation into an incident in which mounted U.S. border agents used their reins like whips to intimidate migrants trying to cross the Rio Grande border river.

Photographs of the incident sparked anger and the Biden administration said the agents had been pulled from front-line duties.

The deportations came amid profound instability in the Caribbean nation, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, where a presidential assassination, rising gang violence and a major earthquake have spread chaos in recent weeks.

Filippo Grandi, the head of the U.N refugee agency, has warned that U.S. expulsions to such a volatile situation might violate international law.

Hundreds of the migrants have also gathered on the Mexican side by Ciudad Acuna, across from Del Rio. The migrants crossed back over the Rio Grande, to retreat from the U.S. camp because of shortages of food and poor conditions there.

On Tuesday, after talks with Haitian government representatives, Mexico said repatriation flights would be offered to those “who wish to return to their country”.

‘IT’S DIFFICULT’

While reports abound of Haitians across Latin America heading towards the United States, some are having second thoughts.

In Ciudad Acuna, Haitian migrant Maurival Makenson, 31, said his older sister was making her way to the border from Colombia but he was trying to persuade her to turn back.

“I tell her it’s difficult to get papers, there’s deportation,” he said.

Some of the deported Haitian migrants on Tuesday reacted angrily as they stepped off flights in Port-au-Prince after spending thousands of dollars on arduous voyages from the troubled Caribbean nation via South America hoping for a better life in the United States.

Some 130 people have traveled on Mexican flights to the southern Mexican city of Villahermosa, and another 130 people to the city of Tapachula on the Guatemala border, a Mexican government official said.

On Tuesday evening, officers from Mexico’s national migration institute (INM) entered two budget hotels on a small street in Ciudad Acuna and escorted about two dozen migrants, including toddlers, onto vans.

One woman, speaking from behind a partition, told Reuters she did not know where they were being taken.

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Drazen Jorgic, Robert Birsel)

U.S. extends travel restrictions at Canada, Mexico borders

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States on Monday extended restrictions at its land borders with Canada and Mexico through Oct. 21 that bar nonessential travel such as tourism by foreigners despite Ottawa’s decision to open its border to vaccinated Americans.

Canada on Aug. 9 began allowing fully vaccinated U.S. visitors for nonessential travel. The United States has continued to extend the extraordinary restrictions on Canada and Mexico on a monthly basis since March 2020, when they were imposed to address the spread of COVID-19.

The latest monthly extension goes through Oct. 21, White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters Monday.

Zients said nearly all foreign nationals traveling to the United States by air will need to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination starting in early November.

He said “we do not have any updates to the land border policies at this point.”

U.S. lawmakers have been pushing the White House to lift restrictions that have barred non-essential travel by Canadians across the northern U.S. border since March 2020.

The U.S. land border restrictions do not bar U.S. citizens from returning home.

Republican Montana Senator Steve Daines said Monday the White House’s “continued refusal to open the northern border is inexplicable and is devastating Montana border communities and our economy.”

(Reporting by David Shepardson, Editing by Franklin Paul and David Gregorio)

Powerful quake shakes southwest Mexico, one dead

By Uriel Sanchez

ACAPULCO, Mexico (Reuters) – A powerful earthquake struck southwestern Mexico near the beach resort of Acapulco on Tuesday, killing at least one man who was crushed by a falling post, and causing rock falls and damaging buildings, authorities said.

The quake of magnitude 7.0, which hit 11 miles (17.7 km) northeast of Acapulco, shook the hillsides around the city, downing trees and pitching large boulders onto roads, causing power outages in several states.

Many people gathered in the streets of the Mexican holiday destination amid the aftershocks.

“We were only just checking into the hotel, so we have all our things with us,” said Jessica Arias, who was part of a group of eight visiting from Mexico City, the capital. “They told us it’s still not safe to enter.”

Others said they were having dinner or at the cinema when the quake hit.

“We were in shock,” said Andrea del Valle, who was sitting on a pavement with her partner after rushing out of a cinema. “There were no earthquake alarms, so we felt it when it was already happening.”

Guerrero state governor Hector Astudillo told local television that a man was killed by a falling post in Coyuca de Benitez, a small town just west of Acapulco.

Authorities reported a gas leak at a café as well as damage to a hotel and a public hospital.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said the earthquake had not caused major damages in Guerrero, the neighboring region of Oaxaca, Mexico City or any other areas.

Acapulco is roughly 230 miles (370 km) from Mexico City.

In the central Roma Sur neighborhood of Mexico City, lights went off and scared residents rushed out, some in little more than their pajamas, a Reuters witness said. Residents huddled together in the rain, holding young children or pets.

“It was terrible. It really reminds me of the 1985 quake every time something like this happens,” said Yesmin Rizk, a 70-year-old resident of the neighborhood. “I’m not sure we’ll sleep tonight.”

A massive earthquake that struck the Mexican capital in 1985 killed thousands of people.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said Tuesday’s quake, initially measured at a magnitude of 7.4 and later downgraded to 7.0, was relatively shallow, just 12 miles below the surface, which would have amplified the shaking effect.

Mexican state power utility the Comision Federal de Electricidad said in a statement 1.6 million users had been affected by the quake in Mexico City, the adjacent State of Mexico, and the states of Guerrero, Morelos and Oaxaca.

(Reporting by Uriel Sanchez, Sharay Angulo and Dave Graham, additional reporting by Stefanie Eschenbacher; Writing by Shri Navaratnam; Editing by Sandra Maler, Christopher Cushing and Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

Mexican Supreme Court decriminalizes abortion in historic shift

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -Mexico’s Supreme Court unanimously ruled on Tuesday that penalizing abortion is unconstitutional, a major victory for advocates of women’s health and human rights, just as parts of the United States enact tougher laws against the practice.

The court ruling in the majority Roman Catholic nation follows moves to decriminalize abortion at state level, although most of the country still has tough laws in place against women terminating their pregnancy early.

“This is a historic step for the rights of women,” said Supreme Court Justice Luis Maria Aguilar.

A number of U.S. states have recently taken steps to restrict women’s access to abortion, particularly Texas, which last week enacted the strictest anti-abortion law in the country after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene.

The Mexican ruling opens the door to the possibility for the release of women incarcerated for having had abortions. It could also lead to U.S. women in states such as Texas deciding to travel south of the border to terminate their pregnancies.

In July, the state of Veracruz became just the fourth of Mexico’s 32 regions to decriminalize abortion.

(Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz in Mexico City; writing by Laura Gottesdiener; Editing by Sandra Maler)

Mexico adopts firm stance on auto dispute ahead of U.S. talks

By Sharay Angulo

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -Mexico expects the United States to comply with automotive rules in the new North American trade pact, a senior official said, taking a firm line ahead of high-level talks next week clouded by a dispute over the future of the car industry in the region.

Mexico and Canada have been at odds for months with the United States over the application of regional content requirements for the auto industry, one of the cornerstones of last year’s United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) trade pact.

The two countries favor a more flexible interpretation of the rules than the one taken by U.S. officials.

When asked late on Thursday whether a new methodology could be used to avoid taking the row to an international tribunal, Deputy Economy Minister Luz Maria de la Mora told Reuters: “No, because we’re not renegotiating (USMCA). It’s about honoring what was agreed in the treaty.”

“The text of the agreement made very clear what scope for flexibility there was in the deal,” she added, noting that differences between the United States and Mexico on the issue had begun while the Trump administration was still in office.

Under USMCA, which replaced the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), carmakers must meet a 75% threshold for North American content for vehicles in order to qualify for tariff-free trade within the region.

With NAFTA, which former U.S. President Donald Trump had decried as a “disaster” for U.S. industry, the content threshold stood at 62.5%.

Top U.S. and Mexican officials are due to restart the so-called high level economic dialogue on Sept. 9 in Washington, talks that were suspended during Trump’s time in office.

Mexican Economy Minister Tatiana Clouthier will be among the participants at the dialogue, which Mexico’s government said is in part aimed at deepening economic integration.

On Aug. 20, Mexico requested formal consultations over the interpretation and application of the stricter automotive content rules, but de la Mora said these had not yet begun.

Making the rules tougher than what was agreed under USMCA risked backfiring on the industry, reducing competitiveness, raising costs and making the region “less attractive for investment and production,” de la Mora said.

She added that disputes over content requirements only fanned uncertainty and could even end up benefiting suppliers from other parts of the world with laxer rules like South Korea.

Nevertheless, earlier this week, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he did not expect the dispute to end up before an international tribunal, and expressed optimism that agreement could be reached before long.

(Reporting by Sharay AnguloEditing by Chizu Nomiyama and Frances Kerry)