Almost 4,500 kilometers southwest of the White House, the mayor of the small town of Chahuites has been dubbed the Donald Trump of Oaxaca for his tough stance on migrants.
Migrant rights activists and local residents began referring to Leobardo Ramos as the “Oaxacan Trump” in May shortly after he announced plans to shut down a migrant shelter in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec town situated on the state’s southern border with Chiapas.
Hundreds of mainly Central American migrants used to travel regularly through the town on top of the train known as La Bestia, or the Beast, although newer and stricter immigration patrols often force migrants to walk along the tracks instead.
The mayor justified the shelter’s closure by saying that the migrants were troublemakers whose bad behavior had gone too far and that neighbors of the lodging had requested that it be shut down.
“We see a lot of migrants without shirts, taking drugs and fighting among themselves. It’s not the same Chahuites as before, children can’t play in the street anymore because there is too much insecurity,” the mayor told the media organization Grupo Fórmula.
At the time, shelter co-founder Alberto Donis Rodríguez conceded that not all migrants are well behaved but said there were strict rules in place at the temporary accommodation to avoid disturbances to neighbors.
Nevertheless, the shelter was permanently shut down in August after Ramos negotiated with staff members to build a new shelter at a location outside the town.
A former volunteer at the shelter said the town used to be a kind of “sanctuary city” for migrants but the decision taken by “Oaxaca’s Trump” had largely put that to an end.
“Unfortunately, Mexico has a big problem with xenophobia and racism against migrants,” Jessica Cárdenas said.
However, Ramos has said in other interviews that he personally has nothing against undocumented migrants and that he is simply doing what the voters asked him to do. Ramos easily won the 2016 election for mayor, representing the Citizens’ Movement Party.
Many of the residents of the town are typical of the constituents Ramos says he represents.
“I was afraid just to go to the bathroom,” one local woman who campaigned to close the shelter told Public Radio International (PRI) as she pointed to her outdoor lavatory.
“What if one of them gets inside our house while I’m in the bathroom, kills my husband and robs us?” María López asked.
Demonstrating a mindset reminiscent of Trump’s rhetoric, López believes that Central America only sends its worst people to Mexico.
However, while migrants may in some cases be committing crimes, evidence shows that they are also increasingly becoming victims of crime.
In 2014, President Enrique Peña Nieto launched an immigration enforcement strategy in the south of the country known as the Frontera Sur, or Southern Border program.
The move came after the United States pressured Mexico to help stop a huge surge of migrants that were arriving on the United States’ southern border.
But since the program was implemented, the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) has reported, human rights abuses committed by Mexican authorities against migrants increased by 40%.
The number of migrants who reported being victims of crimes such as robbery and assault also went up, doubling according to data from the Washington Office on Latin America.
But neither increased vigilance of the southern border nor the Oaxacan Trump’s crack down on migrants has been completely successful in stopping them from arriving in Chahuites.
A group of six Honduran men spoke to PRI recently as they rested in the shade near an old railway station in the town.
They said that as they attempted to make their way back to the United States after being deported, many Mexicans treated them very well and offered them rides and food along the way.
“People just say, ‘yeah sure,’ whenever I ask them for some beans or a piece of cheese. Mexicans are good people,” Alan Spencer said.