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Mexico Moves Forward With Increased Enforcement At Border With Guatemala


Before they get to the U.S.-Mexico border, Central American migrants like the ones we heard from in that basement have to get into Mexico first. And so the border between Guatemala and Mexico is a new focus of efforts to discourage migrants from even making that trip. Mexico pledged to step up enforcement at the border to avoid U.S. tariffs. And there are signs that this might be working. James Fredrick has been reporting from that Mexico-Guatemala border region for NPR. He's on the line now. Hey, James.


KING: So you have reported that Mexico is cracking down. It is stopping more migrants from elsewhere in Central America. Are you seeing that happen? Are you hearing about it?

FREDRICK: Yeah, I mean, so compared to previous reporting trips I've had here, I definitely get the sense that there are fewer migrants just around here in this area. So, I mean, as you mentioned, that starts at the Mexico-Guatemala border. So there's this river that's very common for undocumented migrants crossing it. They would usually just get on these little inflatable rafts, and they'd get ferried across the river. Those rafts are still crossing. The difference now is that Mexican immigration agents, as well as the National Guard, are checking ID's of everyone that arrives in Mexico. So they're still allowing these informal crossings, but they're trying to get migrants who are crossing here. And the immigration agent I talked to said they're seeing very few migrants trying to cross at these main points they're patrolling right now.

But it's not just that. As you go north from the border, there's immigration checkpoints along highways. They're stopping all buses and passenger vans and checking ID's. Bus companies in the area are now asking for immigration documentation to buy a ticket. Officials tell me there are 6,500 National Guard troops deployed here in southern Mexico to help stop migrants. And in June, it does look like they are - that they're getting the results they want. They detained 29,000 migrants and deported 22,000 last month. Both of those are the highest numbers Mexico has hit in more than a month. So it certainly seems like they are stopping more people from getting to the U.S.-Mexico border.

KING: And then they are sending them back home. Remind us, James, about the conditions that people are fleeing because, you know, as we've learned in our reporting trip down here, nobody makes this journey unless they really feel like they need to.

FREDRICK: No. I mean, as you reported, the most common thing that I'm seeing is people from Central America citing gang violence. So that could be any number of things - gang recruitment, some kind of persecution because of a perceived crossing of the gang. I meet a lot of people from Central America who talk about having a small business that was being extorted by the gang. That not only put them at risk but also prevented their ability to make a living. I meet some farmers down here who talk about droughts bankrupting their family farm and no longer being able to make a living. I mean, these are problems that have existed for years, and they continue to keep pushing people back.

You know, the other interesting thing is it's not just people from Central America I've met here. I've met lots of Haitians who say their country is unstable and violent. I've also met Africans, lots of people from Cameroon and Congo who have fled conflict there - so not only Central Americans that are fleeing and trying to get to the U.S. through Mexico.

KING: Do these people know what the situation is on the U.S.-Mexico border, that the Trump administration is now sending people back to Mexico to wait for their court hearings?

FREDRICK: Not really. I've talked to some people. A lot of people are still worried about family separation, that they may be separated. But, I mean, I think, as you communicated quite well, it's really hard to understand what this means. I asked a Salvadoran woman about this Remain in Mexico plan, and she just looked at me blank and said, well, how could they send me back to Mexico? I'm not Mexican. I'm from El Salvador. So it's been really hard for people to understand what that exactly means.

KING: A lot of confusion. Reporter James Fredrick on the line from the border between Mexico and Guatemala, thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.