Mexico claims success in migrant crackdown; activists cry foul

Mexico has reduced traffic over the U.S. border, but activists say their tactics force migrants to take more dangerous routes or wait in limbo. 

Moises Castillo/AP
Central American migrants ride through Mexico's Oaxaca State atop a freight train on April 23, 2019. Mexico announced on Friday that it has complied with a 90-day deadline from the U.S. to crack down on migrant flow though their territory.

Mexico says it has complied with a 90-day deadline from the United States to reduce the flow of migrants through its territory, but activists say Mexico's crackdown has only forced migrants into greater desperation and more illicit, dangerous routes.

Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard is to give a final report on Mexican government efforts Friday, three months after threats by U.S. President Donald Trump to impose tariffs on Mexico unless it cracked down on hundreds of thousands of mainly Central American migrants arriving at the U.S. border.

The figures appear to bear out Mexico's position. The number of migrants 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 porous southern border and set up checkpoints on highways leading north, deploying 21,600 police and troops across the nation.

Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador is a leftist who took office Dec. 1 promising better treatment of migrants, but he has instead made the fight against migrant trafficking his own cause. In recent weeks, he has seldom cited the U.S. pressure and depicts the crackdown on migrants as a struggle to defend Mexican laws. For example, his administration has taken a tough line against hundreds of African migrants 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 migrants can get into the United States. We cannot do that. It isn't our job."

He said migrant 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," Mr. 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 Mr. López Obrador is simply dressing up the fact that he yielded to Mr. Trump's pressure tactics.

"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, a lawyer 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 migrants ride north, and pulled thousands of migrants off buses and out of the freight compartments of trucks. It was warned bus and taxi drivers they could lose their permits if they transport migrants. Activists say that has forced migrants 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 a migrant shelter in the southern state of Oaxaca, said Mexico essentially had no choice.

"It was the least worse choice," Mr. Solalinde said of the government's decision. "Given that Donald Trump is an unstable person, full of surprises, we had to make this deal."

All of that has left migrants like Jose Bento, of the Congo, feeling like they have been caught in the middle, and left in limbo.

"We are in a jail without walls," said Mr. 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."

This story was reported by The Associated Press. 

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