Originally Published in The Guardian
Reuters - March 15, 2021
Mexico has stepped up immigration raids – hauling hundreds of people off trains in recent weeks – to stem an increase in Central American migrants heading for the United States since Joe Biden took office, according to advocates and data from immigration authorities.
The crackdown by immigration agents backed by the military and police marks an escalation of Mexico’s efforts to control migration.
While Mexico has welcomed Biden’s pledge to tackle the root causes of migration from Central America, it is concerned that the new administration’s efforts to make it easier for people to claim asylum in the United States is encouraging migration and putting a burden on Mexico.
About 1,200 migrants from Central America – including more than 300 children – were swept up in raids between 25 January and 16 February along train routes in six southern and central Mexican states, as well as in the capital, according to Mexico’s immigration agency.
More than 800 migrants were also detained while traveling northward in buses or tractor trailers in recent weeks, according to figures from immigration authorities tallied by Reuters.
Mexico’s National Migration Institute said the decision to launch the train raids was not at the behest of the United States and it had not made such detentions in recent years because fewer migrants had used trains previously to travel northwards.
It did not provide comparative data for the total number of migrants swept up in raids in previous years.
But Tonatiuh Guillén, the head of Mexico’s immigration agency until 2019, told Reuters the frequency and scale of the current detentions were unprecedented. Guillén said that previously raids had been occasional but now they were common practice.
The White House has said the administration has not discussed with Mexico how it deploys security forces on its own soil.
Biden took office in January pledging to undo many of the restrictive immigration policies of the former president Donald Trump. He has begun allowing unaccompanied minors arriving at the border to enter the country to pursue asylum claims. They had previously been rapidly deported.
Biden also rolled back a Trump-era program that had forced mostly Central American asylum seekers to wait in Mexico, rather than in the United States, while their claims are processed.
Migrants run the risk of detention and deportation if they do not have the proper documentation to be in Mexico, even if they plan to seek asylum at the US border.
“Mexico is playing the role of stopping immigration to the United States,” said Sergio Martín, head of operations in Mexico for humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders.
Human rights groups have raised concerns about increased enforcement activities, saying Mexican and Central American security forces often infringe on migrants’ right to seek asylum.
Despite the Mexico raids, US border agents conducted 100,441 apprehensions or expulsions of migrants at the Mexican border in February, the highest monthly total since a border crisis of 2019. The rise was driven by migrants from Central America.
Central American migrants are fleeing criminal violence, economic collapse and a growing hunger crisis, exacerbated by devastating storms.