JUAREZ, Mexico (KTSM) – The president of Mexico visited the border on Friday to announce more actions geared toward stemming the flow of migrants from Central America.
But even as Manuel Andres Lopez Obrador spoke in the town of Ojinaga, Chihuahua, in Juarez there were signs that an earlier crackdown is already working.
In the past two weeks, the flow of migrants arriving in Juarez to join the list of those seeking asylum in the United States has dropped from 130 a day to 60, said Mario Dena Torres, spokesman for the Chihuahua state government.
That’s because Mexico stepped up border enforcement at the Guatemalan border late last month, when president Trump first threatened to slap a 5% tax on Mexican goods if that country didn’t do more to stop migrant caravans from Central America.
“In mid-May we had a couple of days in which we saw the arrival of 224 and 240 migrants who came to Juarez with the intent of registering to seek asylum in the United States,” said Dirving Garcia Gutierrez, coordinator of the Migrant Services Program for the Chihuahua State Population Council.
“This week we’ve had no more than 32 or 33 people per day, except for Thursday, when we got 60 Cubans, 10 Hondurans and eight from Venezuela. It has been a drastic drop.”
Both government officials attribute the decrease to tougher enforcement of Mexican immigration laws by the federal government in the Southern and Central parts of the country.
Such enforcement will intensify in coming days, according to actions outlined on Friday by the Lopez Obrador administration, including:
- A complete deployment of the new National Guard to the Mexico-Guatemala border by Tuesday.
- The hiring of 825 new immigration officers.
Mexico also will add four centers to register migrants for asylum appointments in the United States (the three existing centers are in Juarez, Tijuana and Mexicali), assign 200 social-welfare workers to the Southern state of Chiapas to provide temporary assistance for migrants already there, and open a dialogue on immigration and economic development with Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
And while the mass of migrants heading north seems to diminish, the U.S. government appears to be accelerating the return of Central Americans and Cubans in detention.
As of Friday, 4,998 non-Mexican nationals had been returned to Juarez under the American government’s Migrant Protection Protocols, according to the Mexican National Immigration Institute. Earlier this week, the number stood at less than 4,500.
Smugglers hard to pin down
On a recent afternoon, Garcia interviewed a group of a dozen Central Americans brought to the Migrant Services Center by Mexican police.
He wanted to know where they came from and what their plans were so he could share useful information with them. However, he got few answers from the group of Guatemalans and Salvadorans.
“How did you come to Juarez?,” he asked.
“They brought us on a bus,” one of the men in their late teens and early 20s said.
“Where are you staying?”
“in a house,” one of the Guatemalans finally said.
“Where is the house?”
Garcia gave them basic information on shelters and how to seek appointments with U.S. immigration authorities, then the group left.
“It was evident they came with a guide or a ‘coyote’ (smuggler), so they are not going to tell you much. It’s a pity, because if that’s the case we could get them help as victims” of human trafficking, he said.
Garcia said his staff has had bad experiences with the smugglers.
“On more than one occasion we’ve taken people to shelters, then two hours later, the ‘coyotes’ go to the shelter and take them out of there,” he said. “We try to give each migrant as much information as possible so that he or she can make the best decision in whatever circumstance they find themselves in.”
The migrant program coordinator said migrants from all over Latin America pass through his office, some with a clear understanding of what they want, others completely disoriented or misinformed.
“Many Central Americans, particularly, are not well informed. They come without knowing how the asylum process works, they have no idea they will have to wait many months for their appointment. For many, Juarez is the first place they see the reality of their situation and where they begin to get organized,” he said.
Sitting on a bench inside the Migrant Services Program office, Davinia Paola Bolivar Meza ponders her next move. On Friday morning, she was returned to Mexico under the Migrant Protection Protocols after spending more than a week in detention in El Paso.
“I didn’t know it would be like this,” the 20-year-old Honduran said, referring to how her 2,200-mile trip ended in a crowded cell of an American detention center. “There were so many people in such a small space… the food was always cold and they were very rude. They threw away all of my things.”
Bolivar said she crossed the Guatemala-Mexico border on June 3 and already saw signs of the Mexican crackdown. “There was a lot of police on the Mexican side. We had to find another way. We went through the mountains.”
Bolivar said her family had to leave Honduras after her uncle, a cab driver, was gunned down by criminals for not paying “la cuota,” or protection money. Her brother was killed by gang members for refusing to join them.
Her mother fled north first; Bolivar followed after the men who killed her uncle came looking for her mom, and threatened her as well.
“I cannot go back. They are out to kill all my family,” she said.