EL PASO, Texas — The caravans of Central Americans marching to the United States have vanished after Mexico deployed soldiers to the border with Guatemala, an El Paso activist says.
But that doesn’t mean the migrants have given up, warns Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights.
Instead, the Central Americans are now crossing through remote areas and mountain passes, which can put them at more risk, said Garcia, who recently visited the Mexico-Guatemala border.
“There is an unbelievable amount of checkpoints where local police, state police and now the Mexican army are questioning people going through traditional immigration routes,” said Garcia. “These are the routes the caravans took. Those caravans are now gone. You will not see any more caravans because of the heavily militarized presence.”
Tony Payan, director of the Mexico Center at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, said the deployment of Mexico’s newly created National Guard was bound to have an impact on migrant flows from Central America.
“They expect about a 60% drop in the flow (of migrants). The caravans are going to vanish, and they’re probably vanishing already,” said Payan.
He agrees with Garcia that the Central Americans will continue to make their way north through alternate routes.
“What this is doing is driving migrants underground. It’s going to have a pernicious effect because people are not going to band together in hundreds or in thousands; they’re probably going to resort to organized smugglers or ‘coyotes,'” Payan said.
The Central Americans will end up paying a lot more money to be brought to the United States and put themselves at greater risk for harm. “One of the effects of this crackdown on Central American migrants is that it’s going to create more organized crime. The coyotes will now charge the migrants more. There is a premium charged for greater risk, and we will probably see more deaths,” Payan said.
A ‘militarized’ Mexico-Guatemala border
Garcia visited Southern Mexico to gauge the effects of the June 7 deal in which the Mexican government pledged to step up immigration enforcement after the Trump administration threatened to impose tariffs on all Mexican imports.
The results, according to the activist, is that Mexico has embraced immigration enforcement tactics that its leaders long criticized the United States for using.
“We’re talking about checkpoints with federal agents questioning everyone, apprehensions, detention centers, deportations, all of that is going on. It’s as if the United States expanded its enforcement practices all the way to Southern Mexico,” Garcia said, adding that he also detected increasing “xenophobic” attitudes in Mexico toward migrants.
“Now you’re hearing the same rhetoric in Mexico: that migrants are a threat to national security, that they are a burden to the country… it’s the same things you’ve heard for a long time in the United States,” he said.
Garcia said the Central Americans are not the only ones inconvenienced by the soldiers. He said Mexican residents of the state of Chiapas, many of whom have indigenous features, are being profiled.
“People of darker skin fear going through the checkpoints; they’re under suspicion of being unauthorized immigrants,” he said. “It’s impossible to go from the border of Guatemala to Tapachula (one of Chiapas’ largest cities) without going through at least 10 checkpoints with soldiers.”
Ignoring driving factors of migration
Garcia said he spoke to numerous migrants, civic groups and experts on the Mexico-Guatemala border and they all agree on what is going on there.
“I think we have a tendency to just put the blame on the migrant for coming to the United States. We ignore the basic causes of this migration. Guatemalans, Hondurans, Salvadorans all say they have no jobs, no food, no money to send their kids to school,” he said. “They also have to deal with the drugs and violence.”
Garcia said he asked groups of migrants if they still would have made the trip to Mexico if they had jobs back home or didn’t have to worry about gangs and violence.
“They would all say ‘no.’ They come to Mexico reluctantly, with much uncertainty. … they know they will experience hardship on the trip. Many women know they will experience sexual harassment in Mexico; they come prepared for that and much, much worse,” he said.