Mexican Police Detain Hundreds of Central American Migrants

April 23, 2019 Updated: April 24, 2019

PIJIJIAPAN, Mexico—Mexican police and immigration agents detained hundreds of Central American migrants on April 22 in the largest single raid on a migrant caravan since the groups started moving through the country last year.

Police targeted isolated groups at the tail end of a caravan of about 3,000 migrants who were making their way through the southern state of Chiapas with hopes of reaching the United States border.

As migrants gathered under spots of shade in the burning heat outside the city of Pijijiapan, federal police and agents passed by in patrol trucks and vans and wrestled the migrants into the vehicles.

The migrants were driven to buses, presumably for subsequent transportation to an immigration station for deportation processing. As many as 500 migrants might have been picked up in the raid, according to Associated Press journalists at the scene.

Agents had encouraged groups of migrants that separated from the bulk of the caravan to rest after some seven hours on the road, including about half of that under a broiling sun. When the migrants regrouped to continue, they were detained.

Agents positioned themselves at the head of the group and at the back. Some people in civilian clothing appeared to be participating in the detentions.

Central American migrants traveling in a caravan
Central American migrants traveling in a caravan to the United States border walk on a road in Pijijiapan, Mexico, on April 22, 2019. (Moises Castillo/AP Photo)

Mexico welcomed the first caravans last year, but the reception has gotten colder since tens of thousands of migrants overwhelmed the United States border crossings, causing delays at the border and anger among Mexican residents.

Last Friday, local media reported a series of detentions of migrants in nearby Mapastepec, where thousands were awaiting normalization of their migratory status.

Mexico’s National Migration Institute did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The National Human Rights Commission said it had interviewed more than 200 people who were detained in Mapastepec and transferred to an immigration center in Tapachula, across the border from Guatemala.

The detentions came as the United States has ramped up public pressure on Mexico to do more to stop the flow of migrants. President Donald Trump called on the government of his Mexican counterpart, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, to do more to curb the flow or else see the entire border shut down, but he also congratulated Mexico on the migrant arrests just a few weeks ago.

Mexico already allows the United States to return some asylum seekers to Mexico as their cases play out. And government officials said in March they would try to contain migrants heading north at the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the narrowest part of the country’s south and easiest to control. Pijijiapan and Mapastepec are not far from the isthmus’ narrowest point, which comes in neighboring Oaxaca state.

In recent months Mexican authorities have deported thousands of migrants, while also issuing more than 15,000 humanitarian visas allowing migrants to remain in the country and work.

Central American migrants
Central American migrants try to evade Mexican immigration agents on the highway to Pijijiapan, Mexico, on April 22, 2019. (Moises Castillo/AP Photo)

In its most recent statement from last week, the Migration Institute said 5,336 migrants were in shelters or immigration centers in Chiapas, and over 1,500 of them were “awaiting deportation.”

The Rights Commission said Sunday that more than 7,500 migrants were in detention, at shelters or on the road in the southern state. It urged authorities to carry out a proper census of the migrants and attend to their needs, particularly children.

Most of the migrants who have arrived in groups to southern Mexico in recent weeks originated in Honduras. There they joined previous groups of migrants from other Central American countries along with some Cubans and Africans.

By Sonia Perez D.