Behind the migrant crisis in Mexico and Guatemala

Dozens of men, many carrying their shoes, run across a shallow part of a river.
Migrants in a caravan to the United States cross the Suchiate River between Guatemala and Mexico on Jan. 20, 2020. PHOTO: Jose Cabezas/Reuters
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Este artículo en español

There is more than one way to create a border wall. It can be constructed out of steel and cement or immigration policy so twisted it undermines human solidarity. This is the strongest wall Trump is building.

The Republican administration, like the Democrat one before it, is attempting to drive migrants at the U.S. border back into Mexico and Central America using perverse laws and violence. What’s new is forcing tens of thousands of desperate people to wait for their asylum hearings outside the U.S. in extremely dangerous conditions.

This is creating an enormous humanitarian crisis at the Mexican and Guatemalan borders — a crisis largely out of sight of the U.S. public as the national media obsesses over the coming 2020 presidential election.

Orwellian policies. A little over a year ago Trump enacted the infuriatingly misnamed Migration Protection Protocols, also known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy. Under this directive, all non-Mexican migrants must wait outside the U.S. to claim asylum. Conditions are frightening along the border for these people, mostly Central Americans but also Brazilians, Haitians, Cubans and others.

It is not much better for Mexicans. They are covered under a different policy known as “metering.” They wait weeks or months in Mexico for hearings held in tents — and conducted via video hook-up — but are mostly denied entry.

Now Trump is insisting that undocumented Mexicans already in the U.S. be sent to Guatemala, a so-called “safe third country,” to apply for asylum.

Trauma at the border. In January, Doctors Without Borders reported that 55,000 people visiting their clinics along the U.S./Mexico border had been victims of violence. They are preyed upon by criminals who kidnap them and extort their families in the U.S. to pay ransom for their release. They are raped, robbed and murdered. Worst of all, they are seen as a new source of income for the cartels. Those who try to help them run the risk of assault or extortion.

The stress of walking thousands of miles into this border hell is so traumatizing that at least one Honduran asylum seeker committed suicide in January immediately after he was denied entry to the U.S.

Pushing the U.S./Mexico border south. In November, Trump pressured the governments of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador into signing “safe third country” agreements despite the fact they have the highest murder rates in Central America. These agreements require migrants to apply for U.S. asylum from one of these extremely poor countries, plagued by corrupt police forces and governments.

Even though in January the out-going president of Guatemala denied agreeing to receive migrants from Mexico, Hondurans as well as Mexicans have already been put aboard planes to Guatemala without being told where they are going. Mostly women and children, they arrive with nothing but the clothes on their backs in a country which has little social safety net. This is a violation of the U.N. 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.

Under international as well as U.S. law it is illegal to send refugees to countries where they may face persecution or torture. The ACLU’s legal challenge to both Remain in Mexico and the “safe third country” agreements will likely reach the Supreme Court before long.

Mexico bends to U.S. imperialism. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (known as AMLO) took office in December 2018. Early in his administration he advocated a free-transit policy for migrants in Mexico and denounced his predecessors for having done what he called the dirty work of Washington. But things changed in November 2019 when the Trump administration threatened to impose tariffs on all Mexican goods if it didn’t stop the influx immigrants.

A year later, in January 2020, instead of welcome mats, 4,000 migrants attempting to cross into Hidalgo, Mexico, from Tecún Umán, Guatemala, faced clouds of tear gas and hundreds of military police and National Guard troops — all in full riot gear.

Beating their truncheons against their boots, these law men advanced against the exhausted travelers, including women and children. The young, mostly male crowd resisted with fists, rocks and cries of “Peace, peace!” About 800 made it across the border, but the police corralled as many as they could and put them on buses and planes for a quick return to their home countries, mostly Honduras and Guatemala.

The response to AMLO’s hypocrisy in Mexico was strong. Columnist Enrique Acevedo, writing for the Milenio newspaper, described AMLO’s government as “trapped in the moral contradiction of offering VIP asylum to Evo Morales (ex-Bolivian president) with a private plane and security, while it abandons thousands of children and women in improvised camps in the south.”

The unstoppable power of internationalism. The ordinary people of Mexico are known for their kindness to migrants crossing their country. In communities along the tracks of La Bestia, the train that carries travelers north, women cook food and pass it out freely to those who have little but their dreams to accompany them. These women’s inherent solidarity stands in sharp contrast to the depravity of the U.S. and Mexican establishments.

In this election season, we in the U.S. can show our true colors by making sure that the migrant crisis is not reduced to a single issue affecting only undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

Now is the time to raise our voices and demand that regardless of who becomes president, he or she must tear down the administration’s paper wall and “Open the Border!” in the name of humanity.

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