OPINION | Approaching Honduran migrant caravan reveals México as lackey to the horrors of U.S. immigration policy.

Joren Janssens

Saturday  13th of October, one thousand Hondurans left the city of San Pedro Sula in a three thousand kilometer attempt to reach the United States on foot, in the hopes of receiving political asylum. By the time the migrant caravan crossed the Guatemalan border, it had grown into a convoy of over three thousand Hondurans fleeing the cycle of poverty, corruption and organized crime.

Data gathered by the National Institute of Statistics of Honduras reveal the impact of the political and economic crisis the country has been facing since the Obama-backed coup against president Manuel Zelaya in 2009. 7 out of 10 Hondurans live in conditions of poverty and 44 percent in conditions of extreme poverty. Between 2016 and 2017, rural poverty rose from 62.9 to 69.3%. 8 out of 10 young females between the age of 12 and 17 do not attend school nor have access to an income.

While the Trump administration harvested domestic and international criticism for its zero-tolerance policy of forced separation along the U.S.-Mexican border and its plans for the construction of a wall on the frontier to keep out “rapists”, the steady militarization and fortification of the border region between México and Guatemala receives far less international attention. All migrants escaping Central America’s violent ‘Northern Triangle’ must pass one of the border crossings staffed by the National Migration Institute (NMI). Once inside México, seldom the destination and almost always a transit route, migrants face a continuous targeting of known migrant routes and a network of mobile checkpoints staffed by the NMI, federal police, the army and the marines.

Since México adopted the Southern Border Plan (Programa Frontera Sur) in July 2014, the U.S. effectively outsourced its border security and immigration enforcement to the Mexican state, pushing the critical border three thousand kilometer southwards. The U.S. negotiated this bilateral agreement in the wake of the influx of unaccompanied minors crossing the border. As non-Mexicans entering the U.S. in 2014 started exceeding the number of Mexicans crossing the border, the Mexican government became the U.S.’ primary ally. In response to the Southern Border Plan, Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto took a hardline stance and cracked down on illegal immigration, deporting more than 500,000 immigrants from Central America, exceeding the number deported by the U.S. over the same time period.

Today, the arrival of yet another march of Central Americans only a few months after the July caravan, symbols both the failure of the harsh U.S. immigration policies as well as the complicity and collaboration the Mexican state provides toward its enforcement. As an infuriated Trump threatened to financially punish Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernández via Twitter if the caravan was not stopped, Mexican state security forces did not hesitate to double down on their efforts at the Southern Chiapas border region. The Secretary of State deployed its federal police chief to Tapachula, a migrant town just north of the border, to await the caravan’s arrival. Two additional aircrafts Boeing 727 of the Mexican Federal Police were flown in, carrying strategical forces and anti-riot police.

In the hopes of discouraging and deterring their arrival, the Mexican state has resorted once again to repression and threatens to detain and deport all migrants entering the country in an “irregular way”. According to a survey by Amnesty International, the Mexican government systematically fails in its internationally sanctioned obligation to respect the rights of those in need of international protection. A survey carried out by the human rights organization found that 75% of migrants were not informed of their right to seek asylum in Mexico. In the mark of the Honduran caravan, Amnesty International launched a press release directed at the Mexican government, which concluded that “prohibiting the entry of these people into Mexico and returning them to Honduras would be a breach of international law”, as they may be in need of international protection guaranteed under Mexican and international law. From 2015 onwards, Mexican immigration authorities have received heavy criticism from the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), accusing agents of using excessive violence to detain migrants and failing to protect immigrants from organized crime, a blatant demonstration of state negligence considering the estimated 20.000 migrants that die or disappear in Mexico on a yearly basis on account of criminal gangs, trafficking or exposure to the elements.

Over the last four years, the Mexican state has proven itself a lackey to the horrors of U.S. immigration policy. All eyes are on Andrés Manuel López Obrador (commonly referred to by his initials AMLO), elected on all progressive platforms imaginable, as he assumes the presidency in December 2018. Having promised to protect Mexicans against U.S. immigration policies, López Obrador now faces the task of securing Mexico’s border without resorting to the policies he has criticized Trump for.

In a letter addressed to the U.S. president, he defined migration as the number one priority of future U.S.-Mexico relations. Though viewed primarily through a domestic lens, the letter touches briefly upon the U.S.-Mexico cooperation in enforcing the southern border.  “The migratory problem”, states the letter, “should be addressed in a comprehensive manner, through a development plan that includes the Central American countries. [Together] we could collect a considerable amount of resources for the development of the region, of which 75 percent would be directed to finance projects to create jobs and fight poverty, and the remaining 25 percent, [would be directed to] border control and security.” However, AMLO’s long-term plan to remedy the onslaught of poverty and violence that is pushing Central Americans out of their countries does not absolve the new Mexican government from the most evident step towards a more humanitarian immigration policy: a halt to the hunt on migrants. 

Interested readers can dig into the role of the Mexican state in the repression of Central American migrants via the 2016 article by Stephanie Nolen in The Globe and Mail, or watch this 14 minute documentary by Vox.