The federal government has tightened security at Mexico’s southern border after pressure from United States President Donald Trump to do more to stop migration flows into the U.S., but authorities failed to stop a new migrant caravan entering the country on Wednesday.
As many as 1,000 Central Americans crossed the Rodolfo Robles international bridge between Tecún Umán, Guatemala, and Ciudad Hidalgo, Chiapas, this morning, overwhelming immigration agents.
Other migrants who had already crossed the Suchiate river on rafts joined the caravan members and together they began the 30-kilometer journey to Tapachula.
But an operation by immigration agents and federal forces was set in motion late this morning just as Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard prepares to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in an effort to persuade the U.S. to withdraw its plan to impose a 5% tariff on Mexican exports.
Forces have been deployed to Metapa, about 15 kilometers from Tapachula, where they intend to stop the caravan.
The newspaper Reforma reported that the caravan attracted members via an announcement on social media and left Honduras on June 1.
In recent days, the government has bolstered security at the border with Guatemala and set up additional highway checkpoints to stop migrants.
In Chiapas, the National Immigration Institute (INM) has installed at least 10 new checkpoints on the 140-kilometer stretch of highway between Tapachula and Pijijiapan, Reforma said.
Migrants who have entered Mexico illegally run the risk of detention and deportation if arrested.
Statistics show that both arrests and deportations have increased significantly in recent months and this month the INM has already reported the repatriation of 68 Cubans and 100 Hondurans, who were flown to San Pedro Sula in a Federal Police plane.
Following Trump’s announcement last week that he intends to place a 5% tariff on all Mexican exports to the United States to pressure Mexico to “take effective actions” to alleviate the “illegal migration crisis,” the military and police have also increased raids on cheap hotels and guesthouses in Tapachula as part of the strategy to arrest undocumented migrants.
The raids have generated fear and uncertainty among Central American, Cuban and African migrants currently staying in the city.
“So scary,” a Cuban migrant told the New York Times after a hotel raid last week. “The fear never goes away.”
Military police are also guarding the Siglo XXI migrant detention center in Tapachula, where there have been several riots and mass escapes in recent months.
In Veracruz, Federal Police have been deployed to stop migrants from boarding northbound freight trains known collectively and colloquially as “La Bestia” (The Beast).
While the government has stressed that migrants’ human rights will be respected, advocacy groups warn that those rights are threatened by the increasingly militarized approach to combating people’s transit through Mexico.
“Raids and migration control operations have intensified along the entire [Chiapas] coast,” said an umbrella organization of human rights and migrant advocacy groups after they participated in an observation mission to southern Mexico.
“Immigration detention conditions have worsened [to a point that they] amount to forms of physical and psychological torture and other cruel treatments. We demand that the Mexican state comply with . . . its commitment to implement an immigration policy of respect for human rights and not repression.”
U.S. authorities today released statistics indicating that more than 144,000 undocumented migrants were arrested in May, up 32% compared to April. It was the highest monthly figure in 13 years, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said.
May was the third consecutive month in which arrests were near or over 100,000.
CBP officials said holding cells are “bursting at the seams” and the agency’s acting commissioner said they are in “a full-blown emergency . . . the system is broken.”
John Sanders said the CBP has detained more than 680,000 illegal migrants in the past eight months.
UPDATE, June 5, 5:04pm CDT: Security forces rounded up 600 of the migrants in Metapa at about noon today and transported them to an immigration office to review their legal situation. The rest of the caravan escaped capture.