MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico says it has complied with a 90-day deadline from the United States to reduce the flow of Central Americans through its territory, but activists say Mexico’s crackdown has only forced immigrants into greater desperation and more dangerous routes.
Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard was to give a final report on Mexican government efforts Friday, three months after threats by President Donald Trump to impose tariffs on Mexico unless it cracked down on hundreds of thousands of mainly Central American immigrants heading toward the U.S. border.
The figures appear to bear out Mexico’s position. The number of people detained at the U.S. border has fallen from 133,000 in May to 95,000 in June and 72,000 in July. Mexico has reinforced security on its southern border and set up checkpoints on highways leading north, deploying 21,600 police and troops across the nation.
President Andres Manuel López Obrador took office Dec. 1 promising better treatment of immigrants, but has instead made the fight against human trafficking his own cause. In recent weeks, he has seldom cited the U.S. pressure and depicts the crackdown as a struggle to defend Mexican laws. For example, his administration has taken a tough line against hundreds of Africans waiting in the southern city of Tapachula for transit visas that Mexico no longer hands out.
“We will not budge,” he said after the Africans protested, “because the recent events in Tapachula aim to make Mexico yield and oblige us to give out certificates so immigrants can get into the United States. We cannot do that. It isn’t our job.”
He said immigrant caravans once tolerated by Mexico were the work of human traffickers, and effectively ended them.
“All of these people who traffic with migrants’ needs for jobs, safety and welfare, they are committing a crime and they will be punished,” López Obrador said last week. “We are already doing this in Mexico, without violating human rights. We are ensuring there isn’t anarchy, disorder.”
Activists say López Obrador is simply dressing up the fact that he yielded to Trump’s pressure tactics. As for human rights, abductions, rapes and extortion by criminals and Mexican police have been widely reported along the U.S.-Mexico border, under the Trump administration’s “stay in Mexico” policy.
“Mexico is just trying to comply with the U.S. (demands) and cut down on migration, but it is improvising and violating the law,” said Javier Martínez, an attorney for the Casa del Migrante shelter in the northern city of Saltillo in Coahuila state. “We are seeing things we never saw before.”
Mexico has raided freight trains that people ride north, and pulled thousands of people off buses and out of the freight compartments of trucks. It has warned bus and taxi drivers they could lose their permits if they transport immigrants. Activists say that has forced people to hike through unpopulated areas to avoid checkpoints, exposing them to greater risk from thieves, muggers and rapists who lie in wait.
Rev. Alejandro Solalinde, who runs an immigrant shelter in the southern state of Oaxaca, said Mexico essentially had no choice.
“It was the least worse choice,” Solalinde said of the government’s actions. “Given that Donald Trump is an unstable person, full of surprises, we had to make this deal.”
All of that has left people like Jose Bento, 30, of the Congo, feeling caught in the middle and left in limbo.
“We are in a jail without walls,” said Bento, who has spent four months traveling though South and Central America in a bid to reach the United States. “This is a policy of lies. We are considered as animals.”