In just one week last month, more than 14,000 travelers were bused from Panama to Costa Rica – part of a new plan between the nations to funnel arrivals north.
The Costa Rican has declared a national emergency due to the number of asylum seekers passing through the Central American nation – which has risen sharply.
Thousands of migrants have been emboldened by the bus programs adopted by Costa Rica and now places further north like Mexico and Honduras, who are also feeling the crisis.
In comments to The New York Times Wednesday – as the number of crossings from Panama sits at just over 400,000 – the head of a nonprofit assisting migrants at a bus terminal in Costa Rica touted how the two countries were treating the situation.
‘The United States wants to contain the people,’ Dr. Marta Blanco, the executive director of the Cadena Foundation, told the newspaper.
‘This is to keep sending people, to just keep the flow going.’
But Biden administration officials who spoke to the paper off-the-record told a different story.
They claimed they have brought up concerns about the new bus plan behind closed doors with the governments of both Costa Rica and Panama – after a record 82,000 entered Panama from South America in September, all heading to the US.
Publicly, though, the political figures commended both countries – praising their politicians for collaborating through their own security and immigration concerns to pen the so-called ‘humanitarian’ plan.
The policies from Costa Rica and now Mexico and Honduras could only make the US front of the crisis worse, the unnamed officials told The Times.
Their counterparts in Central America, however, insisted otherwise – with several telling The Times the new policies only grant migrants are already set on making the journey a safer trip, hence its ‘humanitarian’ distinction.
‘This migration flow couldn’t be stopped, it can’t be prohibited, but it can be administered,’ said Jose Pablo Vindas, a Costa Rican migration police coordinator at Costa Rica’s massive bus terminal, which is actually a repurposed pencil factory.
‘It’s not a question of allowing, motivating or deterring this travel,’ the officer added.
‘It’s about giving safe conditions for the people who are doing it: because otherwise they would be exposed to trafficking or to hazardous conditions.’
As for the inherent danger of the route – a 66 roadless miles of dense, mountainous jungle and swamp filled with armed guerillas and drug traffickers in Panama – he’s not far off.
The crossing was once so treacherous that few dared to attempt it, but today, many migrants flood its dense jungles.
This year alone, crossings of the Darien Gap shot up to an estimated 500,000 – up from around 400,000 the year before and 200,000 in 2021. The Gap connects Central America to the South at the border between Panama and Colombia.
In response, Panama – which along with Columbia has taken on the brunt of the mostly Venezuelan exodus – launched a campaign dubbed ‘Darien is a jungle, not a highway,’ while Colombia called on the international community for monetary aid.
Panama and Costa Rica, meanwhile, initially responded by tightening migratory restrictions, before employing the current busing system they say makes the journey less dangerous.
However, the program is not free – with each migrant having to pay the Costa Rican immigration office $150 for passage into more northern Nicaragua – and is not without peril.
Back in February, at least 39 people died when a bus ferrying 60 migrants through Panama fell from a cliff, and just last month, 18 more died in a bus crash in Mexico.
Also in October, a similar crash in Honduras – which has also employed direct bus routes to Guatemala as a more safe alternative for migrants – left four dead and a dozen injured.
Moreover, migrants also have to fork over money when crossing through Panama.
Officials that spoke to the Times said that each person must pay $60 before being bused to Costa Rica’s main Temporary Migrant Attention Center (CATEM).
They then must pay another $30 to board a shuttle that will take them to the Nicaraguan border, with those fees going to bus companies licensed by the coalition of governments.
Meanwhile, in Mexico – for many the last stage of the Central American journey before being bussed to so-called sanctuary cities across the US – the transit programs are more freeform.
Last month, Mexico made it easier for migrants to make it US border by charging them for bus tickets from the south of the country to the north.
Under the new program, migrants can purchase bus tickets that fetch as much as $85 for the long-distance journey from the southern state of Oaxaca to the capital, Mexico City.
As the crisis continues to worsen with each day, Mexico also recently announced a new agreement with the US to deport migrants from its border cities to their home countries.
The deal will also take actions to deter migrants from traveling by rails, as part of a new effort to combat the recent surge in border crossings.
Despite violence from drug cartels and the dangers that come with riding atop the train cars, such freight trains still remain popular.
That said, the closures temporarily cut off one of the most transited migratory routes in the country at a time of surging migration.
It also further underscores the historic numbers of people heading north in search of a new life in the US, and the dilemma it poses for nations in Central and South America – as they also struggle to cope with the amounts of migrants traversing their territories.
Stateside, matters are even worse, after more than three years of thousands of illegal entries a day – leaving states like Texas, and more recently New York, at a loss.
The Biden Administration, even after its rescinding of Title 42, has failed to address the crisis, and is actually turning a lower percentage of border-crossing migrants back into Mexico than his predecessor, statistics show.
According to federal data an average of 1,000 people have been sent back across the border each month since Title 42 ended, compared with nearly 3,000 the month before.
It reversed a plunge in the numbers after new asylum restrictions were introduced in May. That comes after years of steadily rising migration levels produced by economic crisis and political and social turmoil in many of the countries people are fleeing.
Once, just dozens of migrants from Central American countries would pass through Irapuato by train each day, said Marta Ponce, a 73-year-old from who has spent more than a decade providing aid to those who travel the tracks running through her town.
Now, that number regularly reaches the thousands.
Worsening matters migrants are arriving from all over, including African nations, Russia, Ukraine, and even China and India.
The Biden administration, meanwhile, has pushed Mexico and Central American nations to control migratory flows and now requires asylum seekers to register through an app known as CBP One – despite its failure to address crises occurring in New York and Texas on American soil.
Last month, it announced it would grant temporary protected status to nearly a half million more Venezuelans already in the country.
In September, border patrol sources told ABC News that nearly nine thousand migrants were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border that day alone – the highest rate since May.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott has repeatedly eviscerated Biden for allowing the unfolding disaster. The only migrant shelter in the city, Mission Border Hope, has now been overrun with migrants.
Many fled from Venezuela and arrived in the US via Mexico. Eagle Pass Mayor Rolando Salinas recently declared a state of emergency, warning that the town’s hospitals are also becoming overwhelmed.
Late last month, the Biden administration announced it would grant temporary protected status to nearly a half million more Venezuelans already in the country.
Activists like Ponce say to expect other methods of crossing – such as migration along the country’s train lines – to grow.
As migrants climbed onto the train early Saturday morning, they cheered as the train picked up speed and continued them on their winding route north – a destination they reached in roughly a day.
This comes as countless arrivals have found themselves with nowhere to sleep and nowhere to work, spurring protests, homelessness, and unrest from weary locals.
Border patrol sources told ABC News that nearly nine thousand migrants were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border that day alone – the highest rate since May.
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