TACUN UMAN, GUATEMALA – January 27, 2020 — Chanting “Hon-dur-as! Hon-dur-as! Hon-dur-as!” hundreds of migrants from the first U.S.-bound caravan of 2020 last week showed up at the Puente Rodolfo Robles International Bridge in this violent smuggler’s town on Guatemala’s northwestern border with Mexico, always a symbolic turnstile to the American goal line. Mexican officials on the other side had let the hundreds of caravan migrants stacking up here by the hour know they would be allowed to cross in the morning.
But visible excitement went negative, then dissipated into disbelief, as I explained to a dozen young male migrants surrounding me of the layered defense Mexico had arranged against them across that bridge. Somehow, unbelievably, they did not know they would be ushered into a lingering kind of imprisonment in the city of Tapachula along with untold thousands of their marooned predecessors who have been referring to it lately as a “concentration camp.”
“I didn’t know about any checkpoints and roadblocks,” Hugo Mosquera of San Pedro Sula confessed after I explained the new situation to him. “I don’t know what I’ll do, but I won’t return to my country.”
It was predictable, after 10 days of reporting for the Center for Immigration Studies on what the Mexicans had created, that very shortly later, I would see Mosquera and hundreds of his fellow Honduran caravanners involuntary returned to their homeland — by forced deportation — when they staged a series of failed charges over the bridge and under it.
A Clear-cut Trump Policy Victory
None of the estimated 2,000 in this caravan could have gotten anywhere near the American border because President Donald Trump last Spring threatened ruinous trade tariffs on Mexico if the government failed to crack down on the mass illegal immigration that overran the American border during 2018-2019. The Mexican government deployed thousands of National Guard troops and immigration officers to roadblocks throughout the nation’s road system, stopped granting humanitarian transit visas, and began requiring those who stayed to apply for Mexican asylum, a process that takes up to six months and renders recipients ineligible for U.S. asylum.
The troops have been blocking and returning migrants by the thousands to Tapachula and elsewhere in southern Mexico to decide whether they will be deported or apply for Mexican asylum while forced to stay in place for the many months that takes.
Jorge Maradiaga of Ocotepeque, Honduras was among many others who, when I told him what was over there, acknowledged: “Now, I’m afraid to go into Mexico.”
The Trump-inspired Mexican defense constitutes the very essence of high-consequence immigration deterrence policy. It not only guards the U.S. southern border from those who have already gotten to within striking distance of it but also clearly discourages at least some migrants back home from even trying their luck.
The time has come to openly declare that Trump’s threat-laced demands here are largely responsible for a precipitous, nearly 80 percent free-fall in apprehensions of Central American migrants at the U.S. border since May’s 140,000 to a (still-high) 40,000 in December. The mass illegal migration crisis of 2018-2019 is over.
The U.S. Presidential Election Outcome Now Part of Migrant Decisions
But the victory declaration comes with a caveat. Absent permanent legislative prescriptions by the U.S. Congress, the longevity of the Trump success is tenuous because it depends so entirely on Mexico’s willingness to play ball, that Mexico stands fast against future caravans, and that Trump is reelected.
Indeed, among migrants who chose Mexico entrapment to returning home, a calculated gambit was clearly in many migrant minds: Numerous migrants, unsolicited, told me their game plan was to live in Mexico until Trump loses the November 2020 election less than a year away. Then, they say, they’ll be well-positioned to cross when Democrats reverse Trump’s policies and clear the path.
“A lot of people in El Salvador believe he (Trump) is the reason all this is happening, that he is selfish and cruel and doing everything he can to make us suffer,” said El Salvadoran Brenda Ramos in Guatemala as she was preparing to enter Mexico knowing she’ll be struck there for a long time. “But once Trump is defeated and the Democrats take over, things are going to get better.”
Five Central American women who applied for Mexican asylum all raised their hands when asked to indicate whether they had chosen to live in Mexico, rather than return home, on the assumption that Trump would lose and the path to the American border would once again clear.
“I want Trump out!” said Honduran Katherine Cabrera of Honduras as she waited to get some papers stamped at the Tapachula detention center with her newborn son. “I’ll wait for that because it would make things easier to get in.”
Others are less sanguine; thousands are leaving or being deported and not returning, although the numbers are hard to know.
Alma Delia Cruz, head of Mexico’s asylum agency COMAR (Commission for Refugees) in Tapachula, cited a steep spike in asylum claims toward the latter half of 2019, from a thousand or so in 2017 to more than 44,000 filed here in 2019 due to the new Mexican policy. Of those, Cruz estimated, about 40 percent are classified as rejected, mainly on grounds of abandonment.
Abandonment indicates that many of those chose to go home.
Original Publication by Townhall on January 27, 2020 under the lede: “Why It’s Safe to Declare Trump Victory Over the 2019 Migrant Crisis. But Violent Caravans Aim to Take It Away”.
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– Senior National Security Fellow, Center for Immigration Studies
– Writing Fellow, Middle East Forum
– Author, The Federalist
– Political Columnist, Townhall
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Todd Bensman is a fellow at the Middle East Forum and a senior national security fellow for the Center for Immigration Studies. Bensman previously led counterterrorism-related intelligence efforts for the Texas Intelligence and Counterterrorism Division (ICD) for nearly a decade.