How Mexican Politics Is Affecting The Caravan Of Central American Migrants And Refugees

Current President Peña Nieto dispatched federal police to secure Mexico’s southern border, but incoming President-elect López Obrador has advised Mexicans to “protect the Central Americans.”

By Joy DiazOctober 23, 2018 11:38 am

President Donald Trump staged a rally at the Toyota Center in Houston Monday in support of his one-time presidential opponent, Ted Cruz. Especially noteworthy in his speech to red-state faithful was what The New York Times called a “sharp intensification” of an effort to frame the election as a referendum on immigration. Trump specifically referenced the caravan of what is now estimated to be 7,000 migrants from Central America moving through Mexico en route to the U.S. border. The president called the caravan “an assault on our country,” adding “in that caravan you have some very bad people.”

Rodrigo Cervantes, Mexico City bureau chief for Phoenix public radio’s KJZZ, says the migrant caravan is also dominating the Mexican news cycle.

“It is definitely one of the most important topics right now in Mexican media,” Cervantes says. “You can hear stories from the new administration, but also from the current administration, and you can also hear a lot of human stories on how the people, particularly in the southern state of Chiapas, are helping the migrant caravan.”

While outgoing President Enrique Peña Nieto has said the migrants should not be allowed into Mexico without documentation, Cervantes says Peña Nieto has also encouraged them to follow the proper legal channels to register for asylum there. But his administration is only weeks away from turning power over to President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s administration. Cervantes says López Obrador is taking a slightly different tack, encouraging Mexicans to be welcoming to the migrants and protective of their safety.

“It’s not really that the opinions are divided, it just seems that it’s a different spectrum,” Cervantes says.

He says during this political transition, Mexicans are adjusting to a new administration and a new reality.

There are reports that some Mexicans are frustrated, saying the Mexican police and military forces dispatched to hold back the migrants are an extension of President Trump’s immigration agenda in the U.S. Cervantes says indeed, some groups are critical of how the Mexican government has handled the migrant caravan.

“A lot of civil organizations are criticizing the Mexican government for trying to reinforce the security on the border,” Cervantes says.” For many, this is the result of the current negotiations with the American administration, trying to hold and trying to keep the caravan out of the country.”

But Cervantes says Mexican law allows immigrants to register as “transitory migrants.” That means the Peña Nieto administration doesn’t have much legal power to keep the migrants from proceeding, despite any pressure from the U.S.

“They have to follow the legal procedure according to the current Mexican laws,” Cervantes says.

Cervantes says activists in Mexico City are concerned that if the migrants are refused entry or asylum in the U.S., it’s possible many of them will end up in Mexican border towns that can’t handle a surge in population.

“This is increasing the population in these areas. We’re talking about thousands of people that might just, like, suddenly arrive to these border towns, and there is no specific plan yet from the Mexican authorities,” Cervantes says.

Written by Caroline Covington.