Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is facing a barrage of criticism at home that he is doing US President Donald Trump’s bidding after erecting a “wall” of security forces near the Guatemala border to keep out Central Americans.
Mexico has bowed to demands from Trump, under the threat of punitive tariffs, to contain mass movements of migrants, most of them from Central America, who have been crossing through Mexico on their way to the US border.
Lopez Obrador was questioned at his daily morning news conference for a second day in a row about how the migrants are being treated by the National Guard military police and the National Migration Institute (INM).
Lopez Obrador defended how the National Guard and INM have acted and said the caravan of Central American migrants was not spontaneous, signalling that Honduran activists were driving the movement for political ends.
Mexican troops used tear gas to detain 800 migrants who surged into Mexico on Thursday after wading across a river on the country’s southern border with Guatemala.
The Central Americans, who were trekking on foot towards the city of Ciudad Hidalgo, were intercepted by troops who used tear gas and scuffled with the migrants to halt their progress, an AFP journalist at the scene reported. Television images have shown the National Guard corralling entire families and then loading them onto buses for detention and then deportation.
The interior ministry later said 800 migrants of Central American origin were “rescued” after crossing the border at the Suchiate River.
Following their detention, the migrants were taken to buses run by the National Migration Institute, the agency that will determine their official immigration status and manage deportations.
Officials said that they were still looking for another 200 migrants who managed to avoid detention.
“We sold our soul and have turned into the wall,” Carlos Heredia, a Mexican economist and academic, said in a newspaper column in El Financiero yesterday.
Trump has made immigration a keystone issue in his bid for re-election in November and is pushing for the construction of a wall along the US-Mexico border.
Thousands of Central Americans have crossed Mexico toward the United States in caravans in recent years, fleeing chronic poverty and brutal gang violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
The so-called “2020 Caravan” left Honduras on January 14, gathering an estimated 3,500 people as it made its way across Guatemala.
According to Guatemala, at least 4,000 people entered from Honduras since last week, making for one of the biggest surges since three Central American governments signed agreements with the Trump administration obliging them to assume more of the responsibility for dealing with migrants.
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