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Americas

Mexico is confronting a 'refugee crisis' of its own

Mexico needs the money; the US needs the labor. In Mexico, Pope Francis is addressing the topic of northward migration, which has also become a hot topic in the US campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

Church bells are ringing, and the melancholic sounds set the mood in Pajacuaran, a small town in central Mexico. A narrow street leads down to the deep blue sea, reflecting the sun.

The idyllic scenery is deceptive. "Fleeing is a necessary evil," a local farmer says. "Otherwise, we cannot survive. I cannot earn any money here in the country. I have to go to the United States."

This scene comes from the prize-winning documentary "The Other Side of Immigration" by the filmmaker Roy Germano, who teaches international relations at New York University. He interviewed 700

Mexican migrants

for the film.

"The Mexican government can ignore millions of poor families in rural areas because their relatives in the United States send billions of dollars home every year to help their families," Germano told the Spanish daily newspaper El Pais in December.

Mexicans make up about half of the more than 11 million unauthorized immigrants residing in the United States. Hundreds of thousands of people try to cross the US's 3,200-kilometer (1,900-mile) southern border annually. Human smugglers, or coyotes, charge $1,500-7,500 (1,300-6,660 euros) to help migrants on their journey. Hundreds of people die trying to enter every year.

Praying at the fence

On February 17,

Pope Francis

will celebrate an open-air Mass on the former fairgrounds of Ciudad Juarez, near the border with the United States. On the other side of the fence, viewers in the United States can watch the live television broadcast of the event. Two days before that,

the pope

will make a stop in the Mexican state of Chiapas, a transit stop for migrants from Central America near the border with Guatemala.

"Central American bishops wanted the pope to go to the US border," said Bernd Klaschka, director of the German relief organization Adveniat. He will be accompanying the pope on his visit to Mexico. "I hope the subject of child migration will also be addressed," Klaschka said, for the number of unaccompanied minors continues to grow.

The Mexican Episcopal Conference has begun a commission to offer counseling to migrants. The aid project is funded by the Catholic Church, and proceeds go to people deported from the United States, as well as to providing accommodation for migrants.

Pope Francis

The pope tries on a new hat alongside Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto

Republicans against refugees

According to Mexico's national statistics agency, about 390,000 Mexicans emigrate to the United States annually. Many migrants to the US come from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, as well. Every four years, at least a few candidates for the Republican presidential nomination in the United States make migrants one of their primary issues. This time around, one of those candidates is Donald Trump, who has called Mexicans "criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc." He has called for the deportation of all unauthorized migrants who are in the United States.

Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto felt forced to respond. "Migrants are discriminated against and exploited all over the world," he told the press. He also took a dig at Trump: "The situation only worsens when political opportunists make immigrants and their families responsible for a country's problems."

When

Pope Francis

prays next to the border fence in Ciudad Juarez, he will be sending a signal to those who oppose the political instrumentalization of refugees the world over. At the same time, he will pay tribute to the people who have lost their lives on their journeys.

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