- President Donald Trump inveighed against Mexico for what he perceived as a lack of effort to halt the flow of Central American migrants to the US.
- But Trump’s comments appeared to reflect a lack of knowledge about the factors driving the migration and Mexico’s efforts to stanch it.
- Some of the immigration policies Trump has pursued are also expected to worsen the problems causing migrants to leave their homes and head to the US.
President Donald Trump railed against Mexico over what he perceived as that country’s inability or unwillingness to carry out immigration enforcement in a series of tweets that spanned from the weekend through Monday.
“Mexico is doing very little, if not NOTHING, at stopping people from flowing into Mexico through their Southern Border, and then into the US,” Trump tweeted on Sunday morning.
“These big flows of people are all trying to take advantage of DACA,” he added. “They want in on the act!”
“Mexico has the absolute power not to let these large ‘Caravans’ of people enter their country,” he added Monday morning.
The term “caravans” is an apparent reference to a large contingent of Central American migrants who are making their way north across Mexico, headed for the US and points in between, documented by BuzzFeed News. The migrants’ travel has notably been covered by Fox News, of which Trump is an avid viewer.
The group — more than 1,000 people, about 80% of them from Honduras, according to BuzzFeed — has been heading through Mexico on foot and by vehicle, guided by a group of volunteers called Pueblo Sin Fronteras, or People Without Borders. Many hope to make part of the journey on freight trains that have become known as “La Bestia” or “the train of death.”
One of the group’s organizers said Pueblo Sin Fronteras was not calling on people to make the arduous trip — only helping them do so. Gathering in such a large group is a security measure to ward off the violence and depredations frequently carried out against migrants by criminal groups and Mexican officials. As of Friday, according to BuzzFeed, the group had made it to Oaxaca state.
Many of those trekking north intend to reach the US border, either requesting asylum or trying to cross without detection once there. Others hope to reunite with family already in Mexico.
But all are apparently fleeing what they see as untenable situations in their home countries.
For those from Honduras, the most proximate cause is violence and instability in the wake of President Juan Orlando Hernandez’s reelection late last year, which many believe was fraudulent, although it was endorsed by the US. In the months since, violence, much of it by state-backed actors, against activists and journalists has been elevated. The group traveling through Mexico often chanted, “out with JOH!,” according to BuzzFeed.
“The crime rate is horrible, you can’t live there,” Karen, a Honduran mother of two traveling with her children, told BuzzFeed near a town in Chiapas a state in Mexico bordering Guatemala. “After the president [was sworn in] it got worse. There were deaths, mobs, robbed homes, adults and kids were beaten up.”
‘A broader problem here that goes well beyond Trump’
In Honduras, as well as neighboring El Salvador and Guatemala, economic weakness, political instability, and rampant violence are all motivating factors. Much of the violence comes from criminal groups like MS-13 that have their roots in US policies during the region’s civil wars in the late 20th century, as well as US immigration policies in the 1990s and 2000s
“There is a broader problem here that goes well beyond Trump and includes the Obama administration. When we hear of Central Americans on the move, we have to think of failed past policies, notably the 2009 coup in Honduras, which worsened political and social conditions there,” Greg Weeks, a professor and Latin America expert at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, wrote on Monday. “We have to think of current support for a fraudulent election there. And no politician ever discusses the effects of 1980s policies on El Salvador.”
US gun policies, for example, have been blamed for facilitating the violence that many people in the region — called the Northern Triangle — are fleeing.
“It’s a bipartisan problem,” Weeks added. “Our policies in Central America are never long-sighted and they keep on biting us.”
Trump also mischaracterizes Mexican efforts to stem the flow of people moving through its territory, which come at the behest of the US.
In response to a surge of undocumented migrants, many of them unaccompanied minors, arriving at the US southern border in 2014, Mexico enacted Plan Frontera Sur, a border-security and enforcement initiative that quickly led Mexico to surpass the US in the number of Central Americans deported.
From October 2013 to April 2014, the US apprehended 159,103 “other than Mexicans,” which was more than three times the 49,893 Central Americans who Mexico detained over the same period.
Between October 2014 and April 2015, those numbers shifted drastically: Mexico detained 92,889 Central Americans, while the US detained 70,226 “other than Mexican” migrants, many of whom were from the Northern Triangle countries. Many migrants detained by Mexican authorities have faced abuses, but the flow north continues. (Faced with the wave of migrants moving north this week, some Mexican immigration officials abandoned their posts in southern Mexico.)
Mexico has struggled to deal with the surge. As of mid-2015, the Mexican agency in charge of interviewing migrants applying for refugee status had just three offices throughout the country. The US also supplies aid — more than $300 million a year — to the Mexican government, which bought about $3.5 billion in US arms during the first three years of President Enrique Peña Nieto’s term, which started in December 2012.
Mexico has been a frequent target of Trump’s fusillades against US allies and foes, and Trump has threatened to cut off US aid to its southern neighbor. Such cuts are generally seen as likely to worsen the border-security and immigration situations in Mexico, empowering criminal groups that have moved into the human-smuggling trade.
No one ‘has mentioned DACA’
Trump’s efforts to crack down on immigration, including removing Temporary Protected Status for some Central Americans, are seen as likely to exacerbate the problems in those countries, leading more people to head north. (US border agents have said Trump’s plans overlook the frontline of US border security: border checkpoints themselves.)
Trump’s assertion that the migrants traveling north are hoping to take advantage of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, is also off base, as that program only applied to immigrants who arrived as children prior to June 2012.
Trump in fact rescinded DACA in 2017, and his invocation of the program this week led some people to question whether he knew the details of it. Others noted the apparent gap between Trump’s condemnations of Mexico and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s praise of Mexico’s work with the US on numerous recent policies.
Adolfo Flores, the BuzzFeed reporter traveling with the caravan, said Sunday he asked some migrants about Trump’s DACA comments.
“Some laughed and others said they thought (correctly) they wouldn’t qualify,” Flores said, adding, “I’ve spoken with dozens of people who cite violence, instability, and poverty as reasons for leaving. Not one has mentioned DACA.”