Mexico's President Says He Will Not Be Inhumane While Trying To Stem Surge Of Migrants

May 31, 2019
Originally published on May 31, 2019 8:55 pm
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The president of Mexico says he's doing what he can to stem the surge of migrants flowing north, but he says he will not be inhumane to desperate people. This is in reaction to President Trump's threat of tariffs on Mexican imports unless more is done to stop illegal immigration. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador got right to the point in his regular 7 a.m. weekly press conference. We are fulfilling our migration responsibilities, Lopez Obrador told reporters.

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PRESIDENT ANDRES MANUEL LOPEZ OBRADOR: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "We're not just standing around with our arms crossed. We have not ignored this painful issue," he said, "a situation that wouldn't happen if justice existed in the world and there wasn't so much poverty and inequality," he added. Lopez Obrador, who campaigned for office by pledging to bring jobs and opportunities to the disenfranchised, insists the way to stop people from migrating is to tackle the root cause of that exodus. He says he will not violate anyone's human rights or be authoritarian, but he says it is wrong to say Mexico is not doing anything.

Mexico has detained and deported tens of thousands of Central Americans during his administration. The latest figures released by Mexico's immigration institute shows that nearly 53,000 migrants were deported in the first five months of this year. That's nearly 20% increase over last year's figures. But while Mexico may be apprehending up to 20,000 a month, nearly 100,000 migrants are being caught each month lately at the U.S. southwest border, according to Customs and Border Patrol figures. Clearly many migrants are passing through Mexico.

Carlos Heredia, an international relations expert at CIDE, a Mexico City university, says that's because the destination for most migrants, especially those from Central America, is the U.S. That's despite promises by Lopez Obrador to give them humanitarian visas and jobs.

CARLOS HEREDIA: They don't want to stay in Mexico. They want to go to the United States because that's where most of their families are, and that's a place where they can save money, not in Mexico.

KAHN: He says Mexico can't fix the problems of poverty and violence in their home countries either. And it's not just migrants from Central America who are now travelling through Mexico. Africans, Cubans and Haitians have been arriving in large numbers lately. This has put a strain on the Mexican immigration institute's long underfunded and ill-equipped workforce, says Alejandro Hope, a Mexican security analyst.

ALEJANDRO HOPE: Its personnel is not necessarily deployed where it's needed. It's not necessarily trained to handle such a big number of people coming through the borders.

KAHN: And, he adds, Mexico has other priorities for its limited resources like fighting drug trafficking, organized crime and halting a record-setting homicide rate. Controlling the surge of migrants headed to the U.S. is not at the top of Lopez Obrador's list these days, he says.

HOPE: The U.S. does not have the resources to stop this. What makes them think that Mexico does have the resources?

KAHN: As Mexico grapples with its security troubles, the threats by President Trump do little to help cooperation agreements and commitments between the U.S. and Mexico in other areas like counterterrorism and drug trafficking, says Roberta Jacobson, a former U.S. ambassador to Mexico.

ROBERTA JACOBSON: It throws an element of confusion into the relationship that I think makes it very difficult to carry out the policies of cooperation that many in the U.S. government want to continue trying to do.

KAHN: Lopez Obrador sent his foreign minister to Washington to show the Trump administration officials that Mexico is doing its part to stop migration. When asked if he had a plan B, Lopez Obrador says, let's just wait a few days and see what happens. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.