$100 gets U.S.-bound migrants past National Guard checkpoints in Mexico, advocate says

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Regional experts urge Biden administration to tackle corruption in Mexico and Northern Triangle in future migration agreements

A Mexican National Guard stands on the bank of the Suchiate River, the natural border with Guatemala and Mexico, near Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, Sunday, March 21, 2021. Mexico has sent hundreds of immigration agents, police and National Guard to its southern border to launch an operation to crack down on migrant smuggling. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

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EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The Biden administration must tackle corruption and social inequality in Mexico and Central America if it wants to bring about an orderly migrant flow, human rights activists say.

It also needs to stop “militarizing” the region because sending soldiers after migrants isn’t working and U.S. weapons sent to military forces there often end up in the hands of criminals, participants in a Washington Office for Latin America webinar said Thursday.

“The migration has not stopped despite militarization,” said Jose Luis Gonzalez, coordinator of Jesuit Migrant Services-Guatemala. “Migration is more disperse, in smaller groups. Every time they apply more controls, they say (migrants) use secondary routes. But there’s nothing new. The roads and routes are there, the (smugglers)” just use them more.

The Biden administration in March asked for help from Mexico and Guatemala to manage migrant flows at their common border. The Mexican National Guard has stepped up patrols and is manning dozens of highway checkpoints in the southern state of Chiapas, but migration to the United States continues, he said.

In April, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported 178,622 encounters or apprehensions of unauthorized migrants. That was up from 172,000 in March.

Gonzalez said “invisible” caravans of up to 300 people continue to cross the Mexico-Guatemala border. He alleges that buses or trailers carrying migrants often pass right through some checkpoints after paying a $100 per-head fee.

“Corruption at this scale continues to operate, and that is what is leading to the high numbers in the United States,” Gonzalez said. “Migration has not stopped. Smuggling networks continue to operate.”

Brenda Garcia, director of the Fray Matias de Cordova Human Rights Center in Chiapas, agrees that corruption has been a historic challenge in the region and stands in the way to provide programs and better outcomes for migrants seeking a better life.

Ochoa also urged the U.S. and partner countries to move away from “militarization” as an answer to higher migration flows. She said Mexico is prioritizing the use of its National Guard for immigration enforcement instead of going after organized criminal organizations.

“The (relationship) between the United States and Mexico is conditioned to Mexico being a giant wall using the armed forces,” she said. “People will continue to leave; they’re being displaced […] by impunity, corruption, militarization and the collusion (of governments) with the business community.”

The close relationship between Big Business and Central American leaders has led to displacement, she said, as cheaper foreign crops are imported and farmers lose their livelihood, and as corporations carry out large projects in rural areas.

She called on Vice President Kamala Harris to “change the discourse” of enforcement and negotiate a migration agreement with Central American countries. She also urged Mexico to increase its budget for a refugee commission (COMAR) that is underfunded even as it is being flooded by asylum petitions – 22,000 in the first three months of 2021.

The Rev. Gabriel Romero Alamilla, director of a migrant shelter called La 72 in Tabasco, Mexico, called on the United States and Mexico to focus on humanitarian protocols when dealing with migrants.

That means shoring up health, food, housing and childhood services for migrants at their borders, he said.

“The U.S. has always had a policy of control – ‘we don’t want more migrants from Central America in our country.’ It’s time for a different discourse,” he said.

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