A migrant is taken into custody by Mexican police

Scott Olson/Getty Images​

Mexican Crackdown On Migrant Caravans Predates Trump's Threats

Data, Sources Reveal Mexico Was Deporting More Than US Was, Which Trump Knew

Doug Sovern
April 25, 2019 - 12:15 am

Four weeks ago, President Trump called out the Mexican government for letting migrants stroll through Mexico with a free pass toward the U.S. border.

"They can stop 'em, but they chose not to," the president said at a news conference in Florida. "Now they're gonna stop 'em. And if they don't stop 'em, we're closing the border. Mexico has to stop it. They have people coming right through Mexico. They don't do anything to stop it."

While the Mexican government has intensified its interdiction of migrants since then, in fact, it had been stopping them for months before that, even more than the United States was. According to data obtained by KCBS Radio, Mexico's National Migration Institute recorded the police detention of 12,746 undocumented migrants in March. That was a 33% increase from February, and 67% more than were arrested in January. All of those arrests came before President Trump's criticism of the Mexican government. 

In addition, a KCBS Radio analysis of data from the United Nations International Organization for Migration reveals that in 2018, Mexico caught and deported almost 99,000 migrants back to the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. That was up 36% from the year before. U.S. authorities only sent back 97,000. So Mexico, not the U.S., was deporting more than half the total number. And, two sources, one in American federal law enforcement and the other in U.S. intelligence, tell KCBS Radio that the Trump administration was well aware of Mexico's enforcement actions, long before the president pressured Mexico to do even more.

In San Salvador, Sandra Monroy, 42,  can testify to Mexico's effectiveness. Federal police blocked her caravan through Mexico last October, tossing her on a bus and sending her back to El Salvador.

"We were really enthusiastic about the idea that we were going to go to the United States," she said through an interpreter. "We were so excited, because we were going to go to the United States, and that's the wish all Salvadorans have."

Roughly half the migrants in the caravans don't ever complete the journey through Mexico to the American border, said Salvador Gutierrez, Deputy Chief of Mission for the Northern Triangle for the IOM, the U.N's migrant agency.

"Around fifty pcrcent of the people that try it, are able to arrive," he said. But despite the crackdowns, they don't give up. "Many people actually just arrive here" at the processing center for returned Salvadorans, "and then try to go back to the U.S. So it's kind of like a revolving door."

Since Mexico is keeping so many from ever reaching America, increasingly, the immigrants deported by the United States are not caught at the border. They're people who have been living illegally in California, or Texas, for years, who get caught in some brush with the law that reveals their undocumented status.

"Many of these persons have migrated as children," said Gutierrez. "So in many cases you have people who don't actually speak Spanish." He said they step off the government bus, bewildered and traumatized. "In many cases, they don't even recognize" San Salvador. "They really don't know where to go. They don't have any family members left here. So it's really hard for them."

David Escobar, 26, another Salvadoran migrant turned around and sent back by Mexican authorities, said through an interpreter that El Salvador is too dangerous, so he had no choice but to try again, to seek asylum in America.

"People die. Many people die," he said. "This country is upside down now."

The White House did not respond to our request for comment on this story.

This is Part 4 of Doug Sovern's 5-part series, "A Desperate Frontier: Death And Dreams In El Salvador," which airs all this week.