More than one thousand Central American migrants rested alongside the Mexican Federal Highway 200 in the intense midday sun. They had crossed through the Suchiate River from Guatemala to Mexico early that morning on January 23. Further down the highway, the Mexican National Guard and immigration officials gathered.
As the caravan gathered on the highway, National Guard troops in riot gear pushed into the caravan, indiscriminately spraying orange pepper spray in the faces of migrants. The caravan scattered, and both troops and immigration officials began to violently and forcibly detain the Central American migrants.
“We used so much of our strength to make it here, and now,” David Mejia, a twenty-year-old migrant from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, told The Progressive in shock as National Guard troops encircled the migrants. “We are all so disappointed.”
The caravan had set out from San Pedro Sula, Honduras on January 15 with the hopes of reaching the United States. The migrants were fleeing the deep poverty, increased cost of living, corruption, and violence created by both gangs and by the regime of U.S.-backed president, Juan Orlando Hernández.
Unlike previous caravans, they split into two groups crossing in Guatemala’s departments of Petén and San Marcos.
Thousands gathered at the Tecun Umán border with Mexico in San Marcos, hoping to cross into Mexico to take advantage of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obreador’s promise of more than four thousand jobs along the southern border. But a loudspeaker at the border crossing contradicted the president, saying the jobs were in the migrants’ countries of origin.
On January 20, the caravan gathered on the bridge over the Suchiate River to request passage as a group, but the Mexican government responded that the caravan would only be permitted to enter twenty people at a time. Out of fear of being deported, the caravan attempted to cross the river on foot, where the migrants were stopped by National Guard troops, who launched tear gas to push the caravan back into Guatemala.
Days later, the caravan successfully entered Mexico through another crossing point just to be stopped by troops further down the road.
Many migrants cried as immigration officials forced them onto buses. Several were injured due to the heavy hand of the Mexican government in the latest crackdown on caravans entering the country.
The violence against migrants is part of the Mexican government’s increasing militarization in response to the massive migration of people from Central America. Migrant rights groups have condemned the violence against the Central American migrants.
Mexico has become the wall, deporting thousands of migrants each year.
“If it wasn’t for the administration of Donald Trump, Mexico would not be obliged to implement these types of operations,” Enrique Vidal, who works with the Tapachula-based human rights organization Fray Matias de Cordova, told The Progressive. “We directly see the externalization and the defacto establishment of the U.S. southern border in this border line between Central America and Mexico.”
President Donald Trump pressured the Mexican administration of López Obreador to crack down on the country’s southern border with Guatemala, threatening to impose tariffs on Mexican products. In order to avoid the tariffs, the López Obreador administration ceded to the pressure from the United States.
The agreement, which was announced in June 2019, included the deployment of 6,000 Mexican National Guard troops to the southern border to stop the northern migration. The new military unit was formed in February 2019 and included elements of military police, federal police, and marines.
The agreement also included an expansion of the “Remain in Mexico” policy, officially known as the Migrant Protection Protocols. The policy requires the thousands of asylum seekers to remain in Mexico as they await their cases in the United States.
This has since expanded to the asylum cooperation agreements with Guatemala and Honduras, which require Central American asylum seekers to be removed from the United States to apply for asylum in Central America.
The crackdown comes after tens of thousands of migrants have reached the United States. But it is important to note that immigration levels to the United States are lower than a decade prior. In spite of this, the Trump Administration has further intensified its zero-tolerance policies.
Efforts to control migration, though, began years earlier.
The importance of the Mexico-Guatemala border was identified prior to the rise of the Trump Administration. In 2012, the Obama Administration’s Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for International Affairs, Alan Bersin, stated, “The Guatemalan border with Chiapas is now our southern border.”
Two years later, the administration of Enrique Peña Nieto launched the Programa Frontera Sur, which placed new border security measures in place. These included new security checkpoints established along the main highways through Chiapas, including the construction of facilities in Huixtla, Catazajá, and La Trinitaria.
While these efforts marked a shift in Mexico’s approach to border security, according to Vidal, the efforts of López Obrardor mark a new era in Mexico’s immigration policies.
“This is a new paradigm for control of migratory routes,” Vidal said. “It is much more violent, and much more aggressive, both psychologically and symbolically against the people.”
He added, “In 2014, the Institute of Migration was the only one [that] could revise documents. But with the creation of the National Guard, it permits them to inspect documents.”
Yet the border is already expanding further south into Guatemala, with the Department of Homeland Security carrying out operations alongside the Guatemalan National Civilian Police. But as Vidal points out, Mexico remains the most effective wall.