Here's What Enforcement At Mexico's Southern Border Is Really Like09:43
Download

Play
Central American migrants arrive to a sports center during the annual Migrant Stations of the Cross caravan or "Via crucis," organized by the "Pueblo Sin Fronteras" activist group, in Matias Romero, Oaxaca state, Mexico, Monday, April 2, 2018. A Mexican government official said the caravans are tolerated because migrants have a right under Mexican law to request asylum in Mexico or to request a humanitarian visa allowing travel to the U.S. border to seek asylum in the United States. (Felix Marquez/AP)MoreCloseclosemore
Central American migrants arrive to a sports center during the annual Migrant Stations of the Cross caravan or "Via crucis," organized by the "Pueblo Sin Fronteras" activist group, in Matias Romero, Oaxaca state, Mexico, Monday, April 2, 2018. A Mexican government official said the caravans are tolerated because migrants have a right under Mexican law to request asylum in Mexico or to request a humanitarian visa allowing travel to the U.S. border to seek asylum in the United States. (Felix Marquez/AP)

President Trump tweeted this week that, "Mexico is doing very little, if not nothing" to stop people flowing into Mexico along its southern border. Trump this week has also been speaking critically about a caravan of hundreds of migrants from Central America that has made its way into Mexico.

Eric Olson (@Eric_Latam), deputy director of the Latin American Program at the Wilson Center, joins Here & Now's Peter O'Dowd to fact-check those remarks.

Interview Highlights

On President Trump's plan to send military to the U.S. border

"On the one hand, it's not unprecedented. I, personally, don't think it's all that necessary. Most of the problems are being handled, now, at the border, by Border Patrol agents. We have 16,000 Border Patrol agents on the U.S.-Mexico border. But, you know, other presidents, including President Obama and George W. Bush, have also sent National Guardsmen to the border and wouldn't be unusual. I mean, Obama sent them, basically, because there was a perceived crisis from drug trafficking at the time, and it was back-up to border agents at that point. And, likewise, George W. Bush sent them at a time when violence, particularly in border cities like Tijuana in Ciudad Juarez, [was] astronomical."

On what Mexico is doing along its southern border

"There seems to be this misimpression that Mexico is not only doing nothing, but almost encouraging people to come and flow into the United States. Nothing could be further from the truth. Look at, in January and February of this year, Mexico detained and deported over 15,000 Central Americans. In 2015, Mexico deported more Central Americans than the United States did. So to say that Mexico is ignoring this problem or, you know, sitting around with its arms crossed and encouraging people in the United States does not match with the facts on the ground. There is an aggressive policy in Mexico to deal with this problem."

On what the southern border looks like

"In some ways it's similar to the U.S.-Mexico border in that there are vast areas that are open with very little infrastructure, roads, very little people living there, very sparsely populated. There are official border crossing areas that are well controlled, but, there are obviously other areas where people are involved in contraband and other kinds of trafficking where they cross. That's illegal, like it happens in the United States. Mexico does not have a border patrol. The security perimeter on the border is mostly in the hands of the Mexican military and, in particular, the Mexican navy. And they have a very strong presence in that area, and there's not an open-border policy. There's not a 'looking-the-other-way.' Mexico has, you know, built infrastructure and has focused on improving that situation."

"There seems to be this misimpression that Mexico is not only doing nothing, but almost encouraging people to come and flow into the United States. Nothing could be further from the truth."

Eric Olson

On the U.S. contributions to Mexico's immigration enforcement efforts

"This has been very much a part of the U.S. security assistance program for Mexico. Well over $100 million has been destined, or designated, for use on the Mexican-Guatemalan border. So they support what Mexico is trying to do in that area, providing intelligence, communications equipment. They have given X-ray technology, even canine units. There's a lot that goes on to strengthen the capacity of Mexico to ensure and protect its borders."

On whether the U.S. is getting a return on that investment

"Yes, I think it is. I think there's a lot of ways in which Mexico has been trying to take control of the flow of undocumented migrants in Central America coming through. Here's the problem, however: People are leaving Central America because of the violence, because of the desperate poverty. And so many of them, actually, may not have the documents to enter the country but should be allowed to file for political asylum, in Mexico and in the United States. We've seen over a 300 percent increase in Central Americans seeking asylum in Mexico. That's really important. And Mexico has tried to expand its capacity to receive Central Americans and look at their asylum claims, just like the United States has."

On how Mexico is handling this caravan from Central America

"They are trying to distinguish between those who may have a legitimate claim for asylum, and that's the 20-day permit that they're given to stay [in Mexico] and make their case. That's not a free pass to go to the United States. I think there's a lot of misconception about that. Others, of course, don't have a real well-founded fear of persecution, which is the standard, and they will likely be returned if they're in the custody of the Mexican authorities. But this is a key point: There is an obligation for Mexico, there is an obligation for the United States to allow migrants to make their case if they feel they fear for their lives if they're returned."

On how difficult it is to be granted permission for asylum in Mexico

"It is not an easy thing. The numbers I've seen is that roughly 1 out of 10 cases, or asylum seekers, receive asylum in Mexico. It's not an automatic. It's not like you present a case and they give you asylum immediately. So it's not just a simple thing, it's not a rubber stamp. And, in fact, a lot of migrant rights advocates in Mexico say Mexico is not doing enough to protect those migrants who have legitimate claims to protection, the same thing that people say in the United States."

On the 45-year low for Border Patrol arrests in the U.S.

"There's always going to be pressure or push factors from Central America that compel people to seek asylum outside of the country because of extreme violence in their region. But the reality is that the numbers are down, are going down. The numbers of unaccompanied minors, children under the age of 18, apprehended at the U.S. border is down 36 percent so far this fiscal year. I suspect [the numbers] will [stay down.] I mean, you know, the natural rhythm of things is that they go up for a few months, then they go back down. But in general they have been down. The numbers of Mexicans going to the United States is way down. We're actually at net zero migration — more Mexicans leaving the United States than entering. So this appears to be a long-term trend."

This segment aired on April 4, 2018.

Related:

Support the news

+Join the discussion
TwitterfacebookEmail

Support the news