With the United States turning away migrants at its southern border, Mexico is also taking a firm stance against undocumented arrivals, including thousands of Haitian asylum seekers.
Mexico, which will host US Secretary of State Antony Blinken for talks on Friday, recorded 90,314 asylum requests from January to September, according to the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance.
That compares with 70,406 for the whole of 2019 and 41,059 in 2020, when the pandemic reduced the number of applications for refugee status in Mexico.
As usual, Hondurans make up the largest proportion this year with 31,884 applications, ahead of Haitians, whose number has increased sharply, to 26,007 in 2021, against 5,954 in 2020.
Mexico has expelled 54,000 migrants so far in 2021, according to Jose Miguel Vivanco, director of Human Rights Watch's Americas division.
Thousands of US-bound migrants are stranded in the overcrowded southern city of Tapachula, where some have been waiting months for documents so they can avoid being deported.
Security forces have broken up several migrant caravans attempting the journey from Tapachula to the United States in recent weeks, dismaying rights activists.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said last month that Mexico cannot become a "migrant camp."
His warning followed the arrival in recent months of tens of thousands of US-bound Haitian migrants, many of whom had previously been living in South America.
While most cling to hope of eventually crossing the US-Mexican border, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard has suggested that Mexico could grant refugee status to 13,255 Haitians.
"We Haitians dream of reaching the United States so our families have a better life, but the immigration authorities don't let anyone through," Joseph Yorel told AFP in a shelter in the northeastern city of Monterrey.
"If I find a job so that I can live in Mexico and support my family ... then I have no problem staying here," added the 34-year-old, who traveled overland from Chile with his wife and baby.
- 'Dirty work' -
The Haitians face an anxious wait to see if they will be allowed to stay.
Mexico repatriated 129 Haitian migrants to Port-au-Prince on Wednesday, the second such flight since late September.
Mexican immigration authorities have called the repatriation flights voluntary and pledged to respect migrant rights.
But witnesses said the Haitians protested before their departure on Wednesday from the southern state of Chiapas.
One man apparently even tried to jump from the plane's boarding bridge, according to HRW's Vivanco and video footage.
Lopez Obrador has urged the United States to invest in economic development in Central America and Haiti to generate jobs so people do not need to flee poverty.
Mexico and Central American countries are still waiting for four billion dollars pledged by Washington, he said last month.
The left-wing populist has urged the United States to end a security assistance program called the Merida Initiative and instead use the money for development assistance.
When Donald Trump was president from 2017-2021, a former Mexican foreign minister, Jorge Castaneda, accused his own country of doing the "dirty work" of the United States by hindering migrant flows.
Under Trump's successor Joe Biden, the United States still wants Mexico "to be a kind of wall against migrants," said Gaspard Estrada, a Latin America expert at the Paris Institute of Political Studies.
"Mexico is above all a country which expels migrants. It responds to the wishes of the Democratic administration," he said.