JUAREZ, Mexico (KTSM) – Mexican army troops are now patrolling the Rio Grande, but the Mayor of Juarez says they will not be detaining migrants.
Instead, the soldiers and Mexican federal police will engage would-be border crossers about the dangers associated with drownings and human smugglers, and urge them to follow established asylum protocols, Mayor Armando Cabada said.
That means they should sign up for a hearing at the Migrant Services Center on the Mexican side of the Paso del Norte Bridge and wait several months to be called.
“The Defense Ministry wants to dissuade migrants from crossing at the river for the safety of the migrants themselves. We have heard reports of seven or eight drownings in the past week in the river and (canals)” in the El Paso, Texas area, he said.
An eighth drowning was reported Sunday in a canal near Socorro, Texas, although U.S. authorities have not yet confirmed that the deceased were migrants.
The Mexican soldiers could be seen on Monday in full fatigues and carrying rifles near the river levee just north of Juarez City Hall. In contrast to previous days, few prospective migrants were walking the levee on Monday.
The presence of the military comes a few days after Mexico agreed to more strictly enforce its immigration laws, in order to avoid the Trump administration’s 5% tariff on exports to the United States. Mexico also agreed to temporarily take in more migrants waiting for asylum hearings in the United States.
Juarez has already received 5,200 Cubans, Central Americans and other foreigners under the U.S. Migrant Protection Protocols, and Mayor Cabada said the number will double and possibly triple in the coming months.
“We were told by U.S. authorities that they could be returning between 200 and 300 people per day, as part of the agreement between our two federal governments,” he said Monday in an interview with KTSM.
Customs and Border Protection, as well as Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
Critics of the agreement worry the Mexican crackdown, particularly the use of the military on the southern border (Mexico-Guatemala) could lead to human rights violations.
Juarez officials said they support their government’s policies, but say they are not prepared to deal with the impending influx of non-Mexican citizens of other countries without federal funds.
“Obviously, the city is not prepared for the sudden arrival of 5,000 to 10,000 more people. We have thousands of jobs available in the maquiladoras, but they will also need housing, basic services, schools for their children… this requires an additional investment from our federal government,” Cabada said.
The state of Chihuahua has spent $1.1 million in food and other basic needs at immigrant shelters since January, according to Gov. Javier Corral. Juarez has shelled out $445,000 in the same period of time, Cabada said.
Since the announcement of the June 7 immigration deal between Mexico and the Trump administration, Juarez residents have been calling radio talk shows concerned about the arrival of more Central Americans and the possibility that they will stay in the city should they lose their asylum cases in the United States.
“Why don’t they send all those people to their countries? We cannot have all those people stay here in Mexico,” a woman who identified herself as Mrs. Salazar told one of the talk shows Monday afternoon.
But Mayor Cabada said his city won’t be running anyone out of town.
“Juarez is a city of immigrants. We come from many places. Only 4 in 10 of our residents were actually born here and we are comfortable with that… But it will be difficult to accommodate so many new people in such a short period of time,” he said.
In El Paso, immigrant advocates have expressed concerns that making the migrants wait for months in Juarez shelters makes them vulnerable to crime, and even places their lives in danger. In recent hearings at federal immigration court in El Paso attended by KTSM, migrants have pleaded not to be sent to wait for their case in Mexico, for fear of being victimized by criminals.
Advocates have said their clients reported suffering threats, abuse and even kidnapping attempts while in Juarez. KTSM has also interviewed Central Americans who say they were robbed by thugs in Juarez or escaped being kidnapped.
However, Cabada said such incidents are rare.
“Juarez is safe. We have very few instances of migrants being specifically targeted. Some have become involved in drugs and experienced (violence), but we don’t have formal reports of migrant kidnappings or extortions,” he maintains.