Mexico to Continue Facilitating Caravan Travel to US Border

March 12, 2019 Updated: March 12, 2019

WASHINGTON—Mexico’s new government has started laying out its vision for immigration, especially regarding the huge flow of migrants journeying north from Central America to the U.S. border.

Olga Sánchez Cordero, secretary of the interior for Mexico, said she expects the number of Central American migrants entering Mexico to reach at least 700,000 a year over the next several years.

“Today, the new migration model, the safest model for migrants, is through caravans. It’s a new phenomenon that we had not previously experienced,” Cordero said at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington on Feb. 28, through a translator.

“In fact, we need to look at who is promoting caravans, what organizations are promoting them, know who the leaders of these caravans are, how people are recruited from Honduras, the leaders of these caravans are recruited, and how this migratory movement occurs. It is unusual, but soon will become normal—caravans coming towards the north.”

Cordero said members of San Diego-based Pueblos Sin Fronteras (“People Without Borders”) are involved.

“Now, for example, we identify the leaders first of all of nongovernmental organizations that are recruiting these caravans. There are some from Pueblo Sin Fronteras, for example. We are identifying people,” she said.

“Some of the leaders as well who were managing this illegally, this is a huge business. Smuggling people is a huge business.”

In response to Cordero’s comments, Pueblo Sin Fronteras denied that it’s behind the formation of the caravans, although it has led caravans from Central America to the United States for years.

“Our organization has not participated in the organization of any migrant caravan since the inauguration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. We have never organized or recruited any caravan from Central America,” the group wrote on its Facebook page on Feb. 28.

However, on Nov. 26, 2018, the day after more than 1,000 migrants rushed at the border in Tijuana, Mexico, and attempted to force their way into the United States, Pueblos Sin Fronteras wrote on Facebook: “As an organization, we accompanied two migrant caravans in 2017 and one in the spring of 2018.

“Hundreds of Central American people participating in these caravans received legal advice from lawyers and volunteer lawyers about their options for regularization, shelter, and asylum both in Mexico as in the United States.”

border security migrant caravan
Migrants begin to retreat as U.S. law enforcement uses tear gas to repel their efforts to cross illegally into the United States, just west of the San Ysidro crossing in Tijuana, Mexico, on Nov. 25, 2018. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)

On its website, the group states its dream as “[building] solidarity bridges among peoples and turndown border walls imposed by greed.”

Pueblo Sin Fronteras retweeted a flier on Dec. 3, 2018, that makes demands of Mexico’s president on behalf of Central American migrants.

The flier, which was first tweeted by a group called La72, calls for the abolition of Mexico’s migration agency.

“We demand the disintegration of the National Institute of Migration as an agency of persecution and deportation,” the flier says. It also demands that Mexico provide Central American migrants, “the unconditional guarantee to access to health care and education and complete security and protection.”

Mexico’s Policies

Cordero said Mexico’s immigration policies under Lopez Obrador will be “radically different” from previous governments.

“The previous policy was basically to contain them, repress and deport the migrants,” Cordero said. “Currently, the policy is order, security, and regularity in our migration. This implies registering and having a legal stay of migrants in our nation.”

She said the government is currently evaluating how many migrants it is willing to accept into Mexico, but so far has only turned back about 150 people.

“We want to respect the human rights of the migrants under the new policy. They are not criminals. They are people who are migrating for the reasons of precariousness and violence,” Cordero said. “Therefore, the government of the nation wants to respect, without restrictions, the human rights of the migrants.”

Olga Cordero
Current Mexico Interior Minister Olga Sanchez Cordero during an interview in Mexico City, Mexico, on June 11, 2018. (RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)

Mexico has offered asylum to almost all Central Americans traveling north, offering jobs, medical care, and education for children. But the dozens of migrants that The Epoch Times has talked to are all intent on crossing into the United States.

The latest large caravan of migrants that was bused up to the Mexican city of Piedras Negras, across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas, stayed in an old factory until Mexico immigration authorities had issued humanitarian visas. Then, they were released. Mexican authorities deported several criminals and those who had pending charges in their home countries.

Cordero said it is “a sovereign right of Mexico to have organized migration and deal with the causes.”

US Asylum Claims

Almost all (91 percent) of Central Americans who gain entry into the United States by claiming a fear of returning to their country aren’t granted asylum by an immigration judge. The majority of them (71 percent) either fail to show up at their immigration court hearing, or don’t bother to formally apply for asylum once they’re in the country.

“Only 1.5 percent of family units from Central America apprehended [in fiscal] 2017 have been removed to their countries of origin, despite the fact that most will not end up having valid claims to remain in the United States when their court proceedings conclude,” Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said during a Senate oversight hearing on Dec. 11, 2018.

The Trump administration has tried to deter bogus asylum claims and promote legal entry by introducing several measures—most of which were quickly blocked by federal judges and are tied up in the court system.

migrant caravan
A view of part of the sports complex that is home to 5,150 migrants in the Zona Norte neighborhood of Tijuana, Mexico, on Nov. 24, 2018. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)

One such attempt was a “zero tolerance” policy introduced by the Department of Justice in May, which said all illegal border crossers should be referred for prosecution.

The policy resulted in about 2,800 adults and children being separated during the prosecution process. An outcry resulted in a quick reversal.

Under the short window of zero tolerance, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said the prosecution numbers rose from about 20 percent to about 55 percent.

“Just to be clear, we do not refer parents currently for prosecution, even when they break the law by entering our country between ports of entry,” Nielsen said during a House hearing on March 6.

In June, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions narrowed the criteria for asylum. He essentially reverted the criteria to what it was before 2014, when the Obama administration opened it up to include private criminal cases, including domestic violence.

The definition hasn’t changed. Asylum-seekers have always needed to prove that they have suffered past persecution or have a well-founded fear of future persecution in their home country because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.

“It is not enough to simply show that the government has difficulty controlling the behavior or that certain populations are more likely to be victims of crime,” the Department of Homeland Security stated in June.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan blocked this change on Dec. 19, 2018.

migrant caravan
Hundreds of Central Americans, part of a migrant caravan, are staying in an old factory in Piedras Negras, Mexico, on Feb. 15, 2019. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)

On June 21 last year, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions filed a request to modify the 1997 Clinton-era Flores Settlement Agreement, which initially set standards of care for unaccompanied minors being held in immigration detention.

The most significant change to the Flores agreement was in 2015 during former President Barack Obama’s tenure, when California Judge Dolly Gee relaxed the interpretation to state that all minors crossing the border (unaccompanied and with adults) must be released from detention within 20 days.

This resulted in the catch-and-release phenomenon of all minors and family units and is the likely reason why the number of family units has surged from 77,600 in fiscal 2016 to 136,000 in just the first five months of fiscal 2019.

In the past 10 months, Customs and Border Protection has encountered almost 2,400 fraudulent claims of families, most of which are adults bringing in children that aren’t their own; others are adults claiming to be under 18.

“Children are being used as pawns to get into our country,” Nielsen said. “We have even uncovered ‘recycling rings,’ where innocent young people are used multiple times to help aliens fraudulently gain entry.”

Last year, the Justice Department tried to modify the Flores agreement to allow family units to be detained together for six to eight weeks while their asylum case is determined.

Judge Gee rejected the request to modify Flores on July 9, 2018.

To try to funnel migrants to enter the United States at legal ports of entry, Trump issued a proclamation on Nov. 9, 2018, that said illegal border crossers would be rendered ineligible for asylum.

“Illegal aliens will no longer get a free pass into our country by lodging meritless claims in seeking asylum,” Trump said in a statement at the time.

U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar blocked the proclamation on Nov. 20, 2018, and a month later, the Supreme Court declined to intervene until the case completes its journey through the lower courts.

migrant caravan
Migrants push past riot police at the foot of a bridge leading from the migrant camp to the El Chaparral pedestrian entrance at the San Ysidro border crossing in Tijuana, Mexico, on Nov. 25, 2018. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)

Since then, large groups crossing the border illegally has become an increasing trend. More than 70 large groups (of 100 or more migrants) have been apprehended by Border Patrol so far this fiscal year—equaling more than 12,000 apprehensions. That compares to a total of 13 large groups in all of fiscal 2018 and two the year prior.

Border Patrol has said that the large groups of Central Americans are used by Mexican cartels to tie up Border Patrol in an area along the border, while they bring in other contraband such as drugs and criminals.

“At the current pace, we are on track to encounter close to 1 million illegal aliens at our southern border this year,”  Nielsen told the House Homeland Security Committee on March 6.

Follow Charlotte on Twitter: @charlottecuthbo
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