Under U.S. Pressure, Mexico Attempts To Curb Migration Through Its Borders

Jan 31, 2020
Originally published on January 31, 2020 8:15 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

It has been a year since the Trump administration began telling asylum-seekers at the U.S. southern border that they would have to go back to Mexico and wait there while their claims are getting processed. In that time, more than 6,000 people - mainly Central Americans - have been sent back to Mexico. The Mexican government, meanwhile, under U.S. pressure, has taken unprecedented steps to curb the flow of migrants towards the U.S. NPR's Carrie Kahn joins us now from Mexico City.

Hey, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi.

CHANG: So let's start with the so-called Remain in Mexico program. I mean, how has this actually worked out for the migrants who have been turned back?

KAHN: It's been an incredibly difficult year. Most live in squalid camps in very dangerous Mexican border cities. They face robberies and kidnappings. Doctors Without Borders just reported that in one city on the Mexican side of the border where they treat migrants enrolled in the asylum program, 75% of their patients report having been kidnapped - 75%.

CHANG: Wow.

KAHN: And if you look at the approval ratings so far in this first year of the program, less than 1% of migrants had their asylum claims granted. But from the Trump administration's perspective, Ailsa, that means the program's working.

CHANG: Right.

KAHN: They insist that the vast majority of asylum claims are fraudulent. And they point to a dramatic drop in the number of people trying to come across the border in the first year of this Remain in Mexico program as additional proof that it's working and it's a much needed deterrent to illegal immigration.

CHANG: A dramatic drop. Well, is there any other reason that could explain the decline in border crossings into the U.S.?

KAHN: Well, clearly, it's the crackdown on migrants here in Mexico. Mexico is detaining and deporting migrants in record numbers. In just this month of January, the first month of the year, they have stopped several large groups of migrants, mostly from Honduras, that crossed into Mexico illegally. The Mexican government sent back more than 2,000 Hondurans in 10 planes and on 34 buses in just the last week.

CHANG: Now, President Trump keeps saying most recently this week at a rally that Mexico is paying for the border wall that he's building to keep migrants out. Here he is at a rally this week in New Jersey.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, we like Mexico very much. And we've gotten along great with Mexico. The president's a friend of mine. I think he's doing a fantastic job. It's a tough situation. But Mexico is in fact - you will soon find out - paying for the wall, OK?

CHANG: Is that a fact? Is Mexico paying for the wall?

KAHN: One could make the argument - that's exactly what Trump is telling his supporters - that with all the enhanced enforcement and the deportations, Mexico is essentially paying for a lot of the crackdown. And there's no doubt that Mexico has changed its security priorities in the last year. Stopping migrants from transiting freely through Mexico is now No. 1, you know, with the goal of not drawing the ire of Trump.

It originally - the National Guard force that has been concentrated at Mexico's southern border as part of this crackdown was President Lopez Obrador's campaign pledge here to fight drug and organized crime violence. He shifted that to appease Trump, who now just yesterday also revived another threat of his against Mexico, and that's to tax remittances - the money Mexicans abroad sent home if Mexico doesn't keep up the crackdown.

CHANG: Do you get the sense that President Lopez Obrador and the rest of the Mexican government will continue yielding to Trump's pressure?

KAHN: It really - it just appears that way. Mexico does seem to be pushing back a little bit about this new plan floated by the Trump administration, where Mexicans seeking asylum in the U.S. would be sent to Guatemala to wait out their U.S. court processes. They say they will not accept that one. But Lopez Obrador, you know, does not challenge Trump at all. At his daily morning press conferences, he's often asked to respond to one or another of Trump's comments. And just yesterday he was asked about the remittances. And he says, like he always does, we have a respectful relationship with the U.S., and I won't be provoked in any way to upset that.

CHANG: That is NPR's Carrie Kahn in Mexico City.

Thank you, Carrie.

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.