A group of Afghans who worked for The New York Times, along with their families, touched down safely early Wednesday — not in New York or Washington, but at Benito Juárez International Airport in Mexico City.
The arrival of the 24 families was the latest stop in a harrowing escape from Kabul. And Mexico’s role in the rescue of journalists from The Times and, if all goes as planned, The Wall Street Journal offers a disorienting glimpse of the state of the American government as two of the country’s most powerful news organizations frantically sought help far from Washington.
Mexican officials, unlike their counterparts in the United States, were able to cut through the red tape of their immigration system to quickly provide documents that, in turn, allowed the Afghans to fly from Kabul’s embattled airport to Doha, Qatar. The documents promised that the Afghans would receive temporary humanitarian protection in Mexico while they explored further options in the United States or elsewhere.
“We are right now committed to a foreign policy promoting free expression, liberties and feminist values,” the Mexican foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, said in a telephone interview. Citing a national tradition of welcoming everyone from the 19th-century Cuban independence leader José Martí to German Jews and South Americans fleeing coups, he said Mexico had opened its doors to the Afghan journalists “in order to protect them and to be consistent with this policy.”
Mr. Ebrard added, explaining the country’s swift work, “We didn’t have time in order to have the normal official channels.”
The path of the Afghan journalists and their families to Mexico was as arbitrary, personal and tenuous as anything else in the frantic and scattershot evacuation of Kabul. Mr. Ebrard was at home around 5 p.m. on Aug. 12, when he got a message on WhatsApp from Azam Ahmed, a former chief of The Times’s Kabul and Mexico bureaus, who is on book leave.
“Is the government of Mexico willing to receive refugees from Afghanistan?” asked Mr. Ahmed, who maintained a cordial relationship with Mr. Ebrard despite occasionally heated Mexican government criticism of his coverage. “We have people there, good people, who are trying to get out.”
Mr. Ebrard quickly responded that it wouldn’t be possible. Then, he said, he thought about whether his department could circumvent what would typically be “hours and hours” of process and a cabinet meeting. “And so I called the president and explained the situation,” he said.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador agreed that “the situation was moving very fast, and the decision should be taken at the same speed,” Mr. Ebrard said in an interview this week.
“We looked at this request not as foreign policy between Mexico and the U.S.,” he continued. “Instead, it’s a common position between someone who was a New York Times reporter in Kabul several years ago and myself, who was in the position to make some decisions.”
Mr. Ebrard wrote back to Mr. Ahmed around 6:30 p.m. to say Mexico was ready to help by providing assurances — to a charter airline, or another government — that it would accept a list…