One day last week in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, a menacing gun battle broke out on the main boulevard to the airport, as drivers rushed the passage in terror while rival narcos blasted away at each other.
The Cartel of the Northeast operates with indemnity here, cruising around town in armored, olive-drab pickups with Tropas del Infierno, Spanish for “Soldiers from Hell,” emblazoned on the doors.
And a priest named Aaron Mendez remains missing after being kidnapped from the Love Migrant House, a shelter he operated. One news report says extortionists grabbed Mendez when he refused to turn over Cuban migrants they wanted to shake down.
This is where the U.S. is sending migrants who have asked for asylum after crossing the Rio Grande near Laredo, Texas.
More than 30,000 migrants have been sent back to Mexican border cities to await their day in U.S. immigration court under the “remain in Mexico” program. They are sent back from U.S. ports of entry and given a date — generally from two to four months in the future — to return and make their case for asylum before an immigration judge on a video link. About 4,500 of them have been sent to Nuevo Laredo, where mayhem is pervasive and extorting migrants has become the cartel’s latest income stream.
The program is officially known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, or MPP. In Spanish, the acronym is PPM.
“For me, it’s P-M-M, or Plan of Lies to Migrants,” says Father Julio Lopez, director of the Nazareth Migrant House. “Because there is no protection.”