Amid pressure from Washington, Mexico is backpedaling on promises of better treatment for Central American migrants, leaving hundreds stranded in unsanitary camps near its southern border and allegations of irregular detentions.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador promised more humane treatment for Central American migrants when he took office in December. His left-leaning government issued thousands of year-long humanitarian visas in January, giving migrants legal access to jobs and the right to travel to the United States.
However, caught off guard by a surge in arrivals, Lopez Obrador’s administration is resorting to old tactics based on tough law enforcement.
Mexico has halted the liberal visa policy and ramped up detentions of migrants heading north, government data shows, following criticism from U.S. President Donald Trump of a jump in the number of Central American asylum seekers reaching the U.S. border in February.
Trump, who is expected to make border security central to his 2020 re-election bid, has vowed to limit trade with Mexico if it does not help slow immigration.
While Lopez Obrador’s government has said it will not react to “threats”, sources familiar with Mexican policy, who asked not to be identified, said near-daily U.S. government pressure had led the interior and foreign ministries to push the National Migration Institute (INM) for tougher action.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Unreleased INM data, reviewed by Reuters, showed that it detained 12,746 undocumented migrants for registration in March, up by nearly one-third from February and two-thirds from January.
The agency also suspended its humanitarian visa program on Jan. 28, after issuing some 13,000, mostly to Central Americans arriving that month in the southern border state of Chiapas, site of most migrant arrivals.
A few visas were issued in February but none since, said an INM official in Mexico City, who was not officially authorized to speak to media and asked to remain anonymous.
INM said in a statement it remained open to issuing humanitarian visas, with priority given to women, children and the elderly.
In Chiapas, the INM’s decision to close its main office in the border city of Tapachula a month ago has forced hundreds of migrants 65 miles (105 km) north to the smaller town of Mapastepec, where they have languished in sweltering temperatures, hoping for humanitarian visas.
Hundreds of bedraggled men, women and children have been sheltering for nearly three weeks inside the stadium, as migration officials registered their identities while neglecting the group camped over the road, rights groups and migrants said.
Without water, medical help or government attention, Maldonado’s group was dependent on scant handouts from locals, they said. Maldonado’s daughter, Marisol, 5, wailed with hunger beside her, in a bivouac she had built from dried palm branches.
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