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What we don’t know about Mexico’s efforts to stop migrants

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Terry H. Schwadron
Terry H. Schwadron

OK, it’s been only little more than 10 days since Donald Trump told us that Mexico had agreed to move aggressively to stop immigrants from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras that aim to pass through Mexico for the U.S. border.

How is the plan going?

More importantly, how will the Trump administration and White House measure the change and adjudge it as adequate progress in 45 days. Without such a declaration, the president had warned, he might renew the threat of progressively increased tariffs on Mexican imports.

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It’s a little hard to tell—in part because it is too soon, and in part because no one is really compiling the information on a weekly basis to show progress or lack of it. In addition, there are questions of what exactly to measure or what that measure should be. Unlike the announced solutions, the problems themselves are complicated. And the new Mexican National Guard is still being formed.

In short, maybe the Mexican moves will be effective and maybe not. It won’t be simple to tell.

NBC News and others, for example, have been quick to show televised pictures from the 540-mile Mexico-Guatemala border areas devoid of any signs of the 6,000 Mexican National Guardsmen being deployed to those areas and scattered stoppages of cars carrying refugees. The reports suggest that migrants continue to flow into Mexico, along a border of waterways, mountains and forest.

Of course, the television lens is narrow and does not see context or planning.

Reuters reported that Mexican guardsmen detained nearly 800 undocumented migrants in four trucks near Veracruz on. Mexico and U.S. border patrols also reported that more African immigrants have joined Central Americans.

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Here’s what we know:

The numbers. Various news agencies have pointed out that the immigration numbers may have peaked for the year, that there is a general seasonal reduction that kicks in about now from Central America because the heat adds to an already dangerous trek. Last month, U.S. authorities detained more than 144,000 migrants along the Mexico border, the highest level in 13 years and nearly double the number taken into custody in February. The United States is on pace to make more than 1 million arrests at the border this year, according to The Washington Post.

Mexican officials have said their enforcement measures would reduce U.S. border arrest totals closer to 50,000 per month by October, with the goal of reducing migration to where it was in 2017, when detentions dropped to their lowest level since the early 1970s. Migration from El Salvador is far less than it had been some years ago.

The Mexican National Guard. The Mexican National Guard, which is only just getting organized, was proposed by President Andrés Manual López Obrador and ratified by Mexico’s Congress in March. It was never suggested to Mexicans as a tool of border security or migration enforcement. It has not received the training of a border patrol agency and has no formal connection to the country’s migration authority. It was intended instead to fill the security void left by Mexico’s ineffective and often corrupt local policing agencies to combat violence.

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It is unclear what legal duties involving border security the Mexican Guard can assume. However, the deployment clearly is an escalation over what Mexico had been doing on the border areas. Apparently, Mexican negotiators showed up in Washington with detailed plans for more checkpoints, detention centers and ramped-up deportations—all aimed at preventing migrants from moving north and at deterring others from trying.

Housing asylum seekers. The deal that Trump announced would have asylum seekers apply for protection in the first foreign country they reach, potentially allowing the United States to send Guatemalans back to Mexico, and Hondurans and Salvadorans back to Guatemala. Apparently Department of Homeland Security officials were in Guatemala last month to discuss setting up such a plan.

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Regional partners. While Mexico has said it will not agree to a “safe third country” accord that would require it to take in U.S.-bound asylum seekers, Mexican officials have been willing to negotiate something that would be shared among other nations in the region. That would require approval from Mexican lawmakers. So, that does not exist yet.

Mexico had been resisting U.S. pressure to expand its temporary program to house migrants. At least 10,000 asylum seekers have been sent back to Mexican border cities, where migrants say they face dangerous conditions. In recent weeks, U.S. officials have been sending roughly 250 asylum seekers per day back to Mexico. Under the deal reached Friday, U.S. officials said they expect to increase the rate to 1,000 per day or more.

It is not clear that those deportations among the more than 100,000 in detention in the United States have gotten underway yet.

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Indeed, there are continuing reports of overcrowded facilities along the border, particularly among families.

In addition, Customs and Border enforcement officials, as well as Department of Health and Human Services representatives, have acknowledged that far more unaccompanied migrant young people are being detained, without adequate services and without adequate record-keeping to assure a return to their families in the United States or Central America. In fact, the Trump administration earned headlines again last week for cutting education and recreational funds for young migrant detainees.

As always, we wonder about matching White House mouth with action.

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