EL PASO, Texas — The violent standoff between radical factions of a teachers’ union and the Mexican government has led to an unexpected push of emigrants fleeing the south of Mexico to seek asylum at the U.S. border.
A radical faction of teachers known as The National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE) has paralyzed several economies in the south of Mexico by blocking roads and clashing violently with police in a prolonged protest that is paralyzing life and business for many people in the states of Chiapas and Oaxaca. Tourism has plummeted and the government has resorted to using military planes to fly in food aid into some towns.
CNTE is refusing to accept an education reform signed into law in 2013 by President Enrique Peña Nieto. The most controversial aspect of the reform would oblige teachers to take periodic standardized tests to evaluate their performance in the classroom and raise education standards.
The conflict has grown more violent in recent months. Protesters have burned vehicles and vandalized public and private properties. Mexico’s Federal Police was recently embroiled in a scandal after some cops were photographed shooting at demonstrators.
Now hundreds of families who have become stuck in the middle of a war-like scenario are traveling north to seek asylum in the U.S.
As the Mexican government desperately tries to bring the conflict to a close, the clashes between police and protesters have left dozens of people killed or injured.
Last June, Mexican police fired guns to disperse protesters from a road blockade on the Oaxaca-Puebla highway in the municipality of Nochixtlán. The clash resulted in at least 12 dead.
Earlier this month, business leaders joined the protested in the capital city of Oaxaca to denounce the blockades and the government’s inability to end the conflict and restore order.
Ángel Lozada Vásquez, president of the Hotels Association of Oaxaca, said the ongoing clashes have resulted in the loss of more than 2 million pesos, approximately $115,000.
Immigrant shelters in Ciudad Juárez are already showing signs of a population being displaced by violence.
A shelter known as La Casa del Migrante says it has received around 270 people from Oaxaca this year, including four minors traveling alone, 91 women, and three families.
“Most of these people are fleeing the violence in Oaxaca that’s related to the teachers’ conflict,” said Father Javier Calvillo, a priest who runs the shelter.
“They’ve been arriving [in Ciudad Juárez] in higher numbers than Central Americans. Many of them, specially the families, say they can’t live in Oaxaca anymore because of the violence of the conflict [with the teachers] that started in 2013. They will try to reach the American Dream and cross the border, whatever it takes,” said Calvillo.
Across the border in El Paso, Ruben Garcia, director of a similar shelter known as Casa Anunciacion, said he still hasn’t felt the impact of Oaxacan immigrants yet. But he’s bracing for it.
“We receive immigrants who, for several reasons, are not detained by ICE and are left to face their asylum process freely in the U.S. This is why we still don’t have big numbers of people from Oaxaca as of right now, but we are getting prepared for what is coming,” he said.
Border Patrol says they are aware of the arrival of people from Oaxaca, but they don’t register immigrants they apprehend by state, only by nation of origin.
It’s still unclear how many of the Mexican immigrants crossing the border are fleeing the violent teacher protests in the south. But everyone on the Texas border seems aware of the situation, and is preparing for it to worsen in the months ahead.
(Editor's note: The original version of this story inadvertently included private information about a detainee's immigration case. The information has since been removed. Fusion regrets the error.)
Luis Chaparro, 28, is a Mexican freelance journalist born in Ciudad Juarez and based in Mexico City. His articles have appeared in Proceso, EFE, VICE News, El Diario, El Daily Post, and others. Chaparro specializes in reports on drug trafficking organizations, immigration and US-Mexico issues.