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Mexico Promises To Harden Its Border With Guatemala


There are at least two places where Mexico can affect the flow of Central American migrants toward the United States. One, of course, is the U.S. southern border with Mexico. Another is at Mexico's southern border, which Central Americans must cross first. As part of a deal with the United States, Mexico has promised to send National Guard troops to its own southern border in an effort to cut down the flow.

So what's happening there now? Independent reporter James Fredrick joins us now from Tapachula, Mexico. Good morning.

JAMES FREDRICK, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What's the border like?

FREDRICK: Well, it depends on where you are. If you're at the actual border, which is a river that divides Mexico and Guatemala, there's absolutely no presence of security forces or anything right now. And it's basically always been this way. So I was there yesterday. And you see these inflatable rafts. They strap boards onto these rafts and then use them to ferry people and goods back and forth across the border.


FREDRICK: And so while I was there, I watched several groups of migrants cross easily without a problem into Mexico.

INSKEEP: OK. So you can get into Mexico. But you said it depends on where you are. When people go a little farther into Mexico, does something else happen?

FREDRICK: As you drive up highways here in southern Mexico, you will run into lots of immigration checkpoints. So I spent a couple hours at an immigration checkpoint that was about 30 minutes north of the border. It had immigration agents, police and army there. And they were stopping every van and bus that came by and checking it for undocumented migrants. So in the hour or so I was there, they took about 20 people off buses, put them into armored migration vans and took them to the local detention center.

INSKEEP: OK. So there is some border enforcement, some immigration enforcement there in southern Mexico now. What happens to the people that you saw being taken away?

FREDRICK: Well, the most likely thing is that they're going to be deported. The vast majority of people who are detained by Mexican migration forces are sent to their home country. And I went to the detention center yesterday. And outside there, I met a Salvadoran woman named Maria Eugenia Medina, whose 18-year-old son had been detained by Mexican migration the day before. She fled an abusive husband from El Salvador. She made it to the U.S. but was deported. So she really knows her chances of getting into the U.S. are slim, but she doesn't feel good here in Mexico either.

MARIA EUGENIA MEDINA: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDRICK: So she says, "I don't want to be here. There are lots of Central Americans, Salvadorans from the gangs here. And I worry one of them will come and kill my son." So she worries about gangs finding him here in Mexico. And she's having, you know, issues with Mexican migration. One son is detained right now. Another one of her sons has already been deported from here once. So, you know, with both Mexico and the U.S. cracking down hard on migrants, someone like Maria just feels like she and her children have nowhere to go.

INSKEEP: I guess this is part of the negotiations between the U.S. and Mexico. The U.S. wanted Mexico to take in asylum seekers. Mexico said, actually, we're not safe enough for that. And I gather the U.S. backed down. So people can still ask for asylum in the U.S., right?

FREDRICK: Yeah. People can ask for asylum both in Mexico and the U.S. I mean, it's just - it's really a matter of if people feel safe in Mexico. A lot of them do not. And can they even make it to the U.S., and how hard is it if they do want to request asylum in the U.S.?

INSKEEP: James Fredrick, thanks so much. Really appreciate it.

FREDRICK: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: He's in southern Mexico. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.