ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
We're going to go now to a refugee shelter in Mexico with NPR's Carrie Kahn. The majority of refugees in Mexico are Central Americans who are fleeing violence in their home countries, and the numbers have spiked recently. Many refugees say they're staying in Mexico because they don't want to attempt the dangerous trek to the U.S., or, as Carrie tells us, they fear deportation under the Trump administration.
CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: The indoor patio of the CAFEMIN shelter run by an order of Catholic nuns in Mexico City is packed.
(SOUNDBITE OF XYLOPHONE BEING PLAYED)
KAHN: A young girl plays a well-worn xylophone toy while her mom and sister rest on thin floor mats alongside more than 80 other refugees. The shelter is at more than double its normal capacity. Rita Flores and her 6-year-old daughter got here about a month ago, fleeing from Honduras.
RITA FLORES: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: "The gangs tried to make me work for them," Flores says. She told them no, but she says they started demanding half her weekly earnings. She sold sandals out of her house. Then she says they told her she would also have to sell marijuana. When she refused, they came after her.
FLORES: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: "They came to my house, but when they didn't find me, they got in a fight with my brothers. They shot one of them dead," says Flores. Another time when they came looking for her, she says they killed a neighbor. Flores, who was 27, says she had to run. She and her daughter were picked up by Mexican authorities after crossing into the country illegally. She says guards at a detention facility told her she should apply for refugee status, and she did.
CINTHIA PEREZ: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: Cinthia Perez, a director COMAR, says the governmental refugee agency is doing a much better job identifying migrants in need. She says that's part of the reason the number of refugees has skyrocketed in recent years. Last year, nearly 9,000 migrants sought refugee protection in Mexico, a more than 60 percent increase over 2015 figures which had already jumped nearly 40 percent over 2014 numbers.
PEREZ: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: She says, "we haven't seen this steady of a rise in refugees since the 1980s when Guatemalans were pouring over the border, fleeing their country's brutal civil war."
But it's not just better information and public service announcements driving the numbers up, says Catarin Ramirez, an attorney at the CAFEMIN refugee center.
CATARIN RAMIREZ: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: "Since Trump took office in the U.S., we've been hearing a lot of people say it's just safer for them to stay here in Mexico than go to the U.S.," she says. The rise in Mexican applications coincides with the dramatic drop in the first three months of this year in the number of apprehensions at the U.S. southern border. While many credit Trump's tough immigration talk for the drop in the number of border crossers and refugees heading to the U.S., it's not deterring everyone. Twenty-three-year-old Milton Figueroa of El Salvador says he's going to leave the shelter soon and head for the U.S.
MILTON FIGUEROA: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: "I have a lot of friends in the U.S., and they tell me it's always been difficult." He says, "they say you just have to hide, but you will find work."
(SOUNDBITE OF HAMMERING)
KAHN: With the violence in Central America not abating, the shelter here in Mexico City is bracing for even more refugees. It's building a new wing that will house up to 200. Rita Flores, the mother from Honduras, says she would like to go to the U.S. Her husband and other daughter are there. But she's terrified of being sent back home.
FLORES: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: "I keep hearing that Trump is deporting all these people. I'll just stay here," she says. "At least I'm safe."
Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City.
(SOUNDBITE OF ALOE BLACC'S "WITH MY FRIENDS - INSTRUMENTAL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.