Mexico Experiences Unprecedented Number Of Arriving Migrants

Apr 24, 2019
Originally published on April 24, 2019 7:18 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Mexican officials say they're dealing with an unprecedented number of migrants coming through their country - as many as 300,000 since January 1. They insist Mexico's securing its borders. But after a raid on a caravan, advocates are accusing the Mexican government of mistreating migrants and bowing to President Trump's threats. Here's NPR's Carrie Kahn.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Mexican authorities repeatedly insisted at a press conference of top officials that their migration policy remains the same since leftist president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador took office last December.

TONATIUH GUILLEN: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Tonatiuh Guillen, the head of Mexico's Immigration Institute says we aren't changing our policies or practices. Migrants are not demonized or mistreated. Their human rights are respected. Interior Minister Olga Sanchez Cordero said Mexico is dealing with an unprecedented influx of migrants.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OLGA SANCHEZ CORDERO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "That is the biggest change," she said, "the permanent, large migrant flow entering our country." The majority are families, mainly from Honduras, along with Guatemalans and Salvadorans. But she says there are also 3,000 Cubans and migrants from Africa and Asia. Sanchez Cordero says despite the challenges, Mexico is living up to its obligation to secure its border. But migrant advocates say a raid Monday on one of several caravans traveling in southern Mexico paints a much different picture. Federal police scooped up nearly 400 migrants, pulling children from strollers that were straggling behind a caravan of about 2,000 walking alongside a highway. The officials say the migrants had refused to register with immigration authorities. Footage from the scene showed screaming children, anguished mothers and strollers and backpacks strewn along the road. Ramon Verdugo, who runs two shelters for migrants in Mexico's southern state of Chiapas, says he's never seen such heavy-handed enforcement before.

RAMON VERDUGO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "What we have seen is an increase in the cruel treatment of the migrant community," he says. "The raid was clearly a sign that Mexico's president is doing Trump's dirty work," he adds. Last month, President Trump threatened to close the southern U.S. border if Mexico didn't step up enforcement. Tonatiuh Guillen, head of Mexico's Immigration Institute, called the migrant raid regrettable.

GUILLEN: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "The state opened its doors, offering food and shelter, but the migrants rejected that," says Guillen. He says their rights will be respected as long as they respect Mexico's laws.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.