Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador is struggling to manage an immigration crisis.
In recent months, Mexico has been overwhelmed by the same wave of Central American asylum seekers outstripping American immigration authorities’ resources at the southern US border. Many in Mexico are headed to the US, but others are choosing to stay there.
The influx, along with pressure from the US, has López Obrador flip-flopping on campaign promises of protecting immigrants, many of them women and children. This week, Mexican authorities raided a migrant caravan in southern Mexico, rounding up stroller-pushing families and forcefully stuffing them into vans. Nearly 400 were detained.
It’s unclear whether the tougher tactics—which may appease Trump—will curb the Central American exodus. The jump in asylum applications in Mexico, in addition to the US’s own soaring load, highlight the regional nature of the problem. Any solutions will likely have to tackle its roots: extreme violence and poverty in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.
A rush for asylum
AMLO, as López Obrador is known, vowed to break with his predecessor’s focus on detaining migrants, and instead focus on ensuring their human rights are respected. Former president Enrique Peña Nieto rolled out an aggressive immigration enforcementprogram in 2014, after Barack Obama enlisted Mexico to help with a surge of asylum seekers at the US border.
The number of immigrants requesting asylum in the US is much higher now. Defensive asylum applications, those filed by immigrants who have been detained by US authorities, have grown by 260% since 2014.
The Trump administration blames outdated US immigration laws for the increase, saying applicants are taking advantage of protections that bar detention of children for long periods of time. The enormous backlog means that asylum seekers are often released until a judge can hear their case. That can often stretch years. It’s one factor creating incentives for others in Central America to make the same trip north, experts say. Instead of stemming the flow, Trump’s own policies may have increased it.
The steep rise in asylum requests in Mexico, a place that’s not particularly safe for immigrants, shows once againthat Central Americans have real causes to flee. The number of applications filed in the first nine months of 2018 were 700%higher than in all of 2014, though in absolute numbers, they remain much lower than those filed in the US.
The AMLO approach
AMLO, who took office in December, started out his term by granting more temporary humanitarian visas.
As more immigrants come, he’s having to navigate Trump’s wrath and border policies, as well asMexico’s own budding immigration debate. Some Mexicans are starting to sound like American immigration hawks, complaining that AMLO should take care of Mexicans first. They also blame his more benign rhetoric towards migrants for encouraging more to come.
After dropping when AMLO took office, immigrant detentions are rising again.
AMLO said the recent raid does not contradict his commitment to protect migrants, which includes registering them and identifying human smugglers traveling with them. The head of Mexico’s immigration agency said federal police had to intervene when migrants with that caravan refused to register (link in Spanish) for visitor visas and acted violently.
While AMLO rejiggers his immigration policy, there are few concrete plans to address the reasons immigrants keep coming to the US and Mexico. In fact, the Trump administration last month announced it’s cutting aid to Central America. This week, members of the US House Committee on Foreign Relations, including members of the president’s Republican party, urged him to reconsider.
“Ending assistance to Central America outright will not achieve the Trump Administration’s stated objective of curbing migration,” they wrote in a letter to secretary of state Mike Pompeo. “We believe it will exacerbate the problems facing these countries.”
“This Could Get Worse”: Mexico’s Raid On Migrants Marks A Shift In Approach To Caravans
“The government had always tried to stop the caravans, but never at this scale or so out in the open.”
A surprise raid by Mexican authorities on a caravan of migrants traveling through the country this week marks a dramatic shift in the country’s response to large groups of Central American migrants and raises questions over whether future caravans will be able to traverse the country during what is typically the annual migration peak.
Mexican immigration agents along with federal police raided a group of Central American migrants traveling on foot Monday in the southern state of Chiapas. Officials said the operation resulted in the detention of 371 men, women, and children — the largest single raid on a caravan since the groups began traveling through the country last year and a reversal from Mexico’s previous approach.
Last fall, several large groups consisting mostly of Central American migrants entered Mexico and were granted passage to continue their journey toward the US. While the first of the caravans faced a standoff at the Guatemala-Mexico border with police in riot gear lobbing tear gas, migrants were later offered humanitarian visas, and the option to apply for asylum and a work permit. It also gave people the ability to travel through Mexico without fear of being detained by immigration agents.
Alex Mensing, a member of the non-profit Pueblo Sin Fronteras, which previously organized migrant caravans in Mexico but isn’t involved in the latest one, said the country continues to detain and deport undocumented migrants, fueled in part by pressure from the US.
“Though this is definitely a shift in how they respond to caravans,” Mensing told BuzzFeed News. “The government had always tried to stop the caravans, but never at this scale or so out in the open.”
In the summer of 2014, a group of migrants following the success of a larger caravan, were raided by Mexican immigration agents. Then in 2017, Mexican authorities stopped migrants in a caravan riding on top of “The Beast,” a network of freight trains migrants often use to traverse Mexico.
“We’re seeing the violent representation of what has always been the plan,” Mensing said. “It’s not a change in policy but a change in behavior that’s always been their policy.”
Monday’s raid resulted in the breakup of the 3,000-person caravan, sending migrants scrambling into the nearby hills in search of hiding. Images of immigration agents pulling children into vans from their crying mothers were released shortly after.
“They want to kill us in our country,” a crying woman said as she was forced into a van by agents and police.
Audio recorded by migrants traveling in the caravan and obtained by BuzzFeed News reveal a chaotic scene that resulted in many fleeing into the hills without food or water. Maciel, a woman who declined to use her full name and was among those who hid after the raid, said authorities aggressively apprehended women and children.
“They didn’t care if they had kids in their arms,” Maciel said.
Mexican immigration officials maintained that the raid was part of normal immigration enforcement and said that the country had deported 11,800 migrants so far this month.
While Monday’s raid was the largest in some time, it wasn’t the only recent one Mexican authorities have launched. Last week, Mexican immigration agents and federal police detained 250 Central American migrants in Chiapas state, according to local news reports.
“They conducted a raid at the entrance to Mapastepec and detained mostly women and kids since some men fled to the hill,” Heyman Vazquez Medina, a priest and director of the shelter No One Is A Foreigner, told La Jornada.
At a press conference Tuesday, Mexico’s foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard maintained the country’s immigration policies haven’t changed. Ebrard rejected the idea that Mexico conducted the raid over pressure from the US to stop migrants from reaching the border.
“We haven’t had communication with the White House in recent days,” Ebrard told reporters. “There is no official communication where Mexico is being told you have to do this and we say yes.”
At the same time, Ebrard said that for the first time Mexico was the United States’ largest commercial partner, noting a 3.4% increase in exchange volume in January and February.
“Going against this relationship is very costly,” the foreign minister said.
Ebrard had previously said in a tweet that “Mexico does not act on the basis of threats” following warnings from President Trump in March that he would close the southern border if Mexico didn’t stop “ALL illegal immigration.”
Mexico’s new president Andrés Manuel López Obrador campaigned on the promise that he would not “do the dirty work of foreign governments” in stopping Central American migrants. Yet under his administration Mexican officials have continued to block migrants from accessing official border crossings to ask for asylum. In the city of Piedras Negras across from Eagle Pass, Texas, Mexican police and soldiers held a caravan of 1,600 Central Americans inside an old factory allowing only a limited few with humanitarian visas to leave. All of this amid mounting pressure from the United States.
The most controversial policy the Mexican government has allowed the Trump administration to implement, despite calling it a unilateral decision, is the so-called “Remain in Mexico” initiative that forces asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico while their immigration cases are heard in the US. A record breaking backlog in the immigration court system means many of those returned, nearly 2,000 according to a Mexican official, will have to wait in Mexican border towns for months or years.
Mexico had been under pressure to stop migrants from reaching the US border even before Trump took office. One push came after unaccompanied Central American children arrived at the US border in unprecedented numbers during former president Barack Obama’s second term. In 2014, with US prodding and funding, Mexico created what is known as the Southern Border Program to stop Central Americans and send them home. In that program’s first year, Mexico doubled the number of people it caught and deported.
The record breaking number of families crossing the US border in recent months has drawn the ire of Trump who has responds with threats to close the border or cut off aid to Central American countries. Apprehensions at the border typically spike in the spring, and the numbers from March and April show no sign of retreating.
Already, US Border Patrol has said apprehensions for this fiscal year, which started in October, have soared to more than 418,000, surpassing last year’s total of 404,142. The overall apprehension numbers are still historically low, but higher than recent years.
Mensing of Pueblo Sin Fronteras doesn’t believe the raid will stop future caravans from forming, but said it’s possible if the Mexican government continues to disrupt the migrant groups.
“This could get worse, I don’t see it toning down,” Mensing. “Trump is still saying Mexico isn’t doing enough to stop migrants.”
Source: notimex, animapolitico, qz.com, buzzfeednews,
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