Mexico Bolsters Borders as US Talks with Northern Triangle Continue
By Victoria Macchi June 28, 2019
As U.S. lawmakers agreed this week to provide billions of dollars in funding to federal law enforcement agencies at the Southwestern border, Mexico ramped up its own border efforts, deploying thousands of newly commissioned National Guard troops to its southern and northern frontiers.
The country's immigration agency also announced it would hire new agents for the third time this year, though on a decidedly smaller scale than the troop deployment. The original posting was for 66 officers, but authorities said they might approve funds for more.
Meanwhile, Kevin McAleenan, acting head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said Friday that he would be meeting again with Northern Triangle officials in the coming week, as Washington attempts to lock down an asylum deal with Guatemala to divert asylum seekers away from Mexico and the U.S.
Expectations on migration
Despite a dizzying number of moving parts to the multicountry brokering, McAleenan told reporters he expected to see results of the attempts to mitigate unauthorized migration across the southwestern U.S. border by next month. An increasing number of families and unaccompanied children entered in the first half of the year.
"In terms of when we're going to know if these efforts in Mexico are making an impact … basically by the end of July if these efforts are sustained and having significant impact," McAleenan told reporters at a news conference that had been set for Thursday but was postponed after the U.S. House agreed to allocate additional funds to DHS operations at the border.
In Mexico, Defense Secretary Luis Sandoval ordered 15,000 members of the country's newly formed National Guard and other military units to the northern border.
Thousands were previously dispatched to Mexico's southern border with Guatemala and Belize.
But their role with respect to limiting border access into and out of Mexico remains unclear, said researcher Daniella Burgi-Palomino, a senior associate at the Latin America Working Group, an activist organization that promotes just U.S. policies toward Latin America and the Caribbean.
"All of that lack of clarity around their role is extremely concerning. It seems to be that Mexico already agreed to certain things with the U.S. and … is going out of its way, really wanting to show that they really want to show results within these 45 days," she said, referring to Mexico's response to U.S. President Donald Trump's threat of tariffs. Under the deal, Mexico must reduce the number of unauthorized border-crossers into the U.S. from its territory to avoid the punitive financial measures Trump ordered.
Immigration agent initiative
In announcing its hiring initiative, the Mexican immigration agency said the new agents were necessary to ensure that foreigners "are treated with dignity, and with unrestricted respect for their human rights." The agency is under new leadership this month after its previous commissioner resigned in the middle of Mexico's response to Trump's tariff threat.
Burgi-Palomino said that in theory, only Mexico's National Institute of Migration could handle immigration-related cases and detentions. Mexico also is documenting an increased number of migrants to and through its territory.
But just how that squares with the mandate given Mexico's National Guard at the borders in blocking migrants – largely from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras – from entering Mexico from the south and entering the U.S. at the north has not been resolved.
"They're a new force, which I think leads into the question of how much training have they received," said Rachel Schmidtke, program associate for migration at the Mexico Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. "I think if there's not proper training, and sensitization to how to deal with populations that have less access to power, bad things can happen. And I think that's … what could happen at the Mexico border."
VOA associate producer Jesusemen Oni contributed to this report from Washington.
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