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Has Mexico Succeeded In Slowing The Flow Of Migrants Trying To Reach The U.S.?


Mexico is trying to stay in the good graces of President Trump. In late May, Trump threatened to impose a 5% tariff on imports from Mexico if it didn't take steps to reduce migration to the U.S. By early June, the two countries had reached an agreement, and Trump agreed to drop the tariff threat. Mexico quickly stood up a National Guard force, stationing more than 6,000 troops near its southern border. It also added highway checkpoints and hired more immigration agents. So to talk about how that effort is going, reporter James Fredrick joins us from Mexico's southern border with Guatemala. Welcome.


SHAPIRO: From what you can see, is the increased enforcement working? What does it look like where you are?

FREDRICK: Well - so I'm standing on the river, the Suchiate River that divides Mexico and Guatemala. And it does look different from previous times I've been here. The main difference is the National Guard. This new security force from Mexico is out here. I've seen about a dozen National Guard members patrolling this river. I mean, you could be mistaken for thinking that this is still a completely porous border where migrants can cross easily because these little inflatable rafts continue crossing the river. But there are now National Guard members, as well as immigration agents, and they are asking everyone who crosses to show some kind of documentation that says they can be in Mexico legally. If those people don't have documentation, they are stuck into an armored immigration van that's sitting right here.

SHAPIRO: And so has the number of people trying to cross gone down as best you can tell?

FREDRICK: So the migration agent I spoke to here said they have seen a big drop in the number of migrants who are trying to cross here. The best sign we have that it seems Mexico is having good results in trying to crack down on migration is that last month in June, they arrested 29,000 migrants. That's the highest number in more than a decade. They also deported 22,000 migrants; again, another high in this decade. So it does seem that this increased enforcement is giving them the results they want.

SHAPIRO: This border is many miles. You're describing the scene where you are. Can you tell whether it's a similar scene in other parts of the Mexico-Guatemala border?

FREDRICK: So National Guard officials have told me that National Guard members are stationed at every border crossing where they know there are substantial numbers of illegal crossings. But the immigration agent I've been speaking to said they're able to cover about 22 kilometers of this border, but this border with Guatemala is over 800 kilometers long. You know, it's very jungly down here, so there are just large parts of the border that they can't effectively patrol. So they're closing main parts, but they certainly can't close all of it.

SHAPIRO: And when you talk to the migrants themselves, what are they telling you? Are they aware of increased border enforcement down there?

FREDRICK: Yeah. In general, it seems like migrants are getting the message that these main crossings and these main cities, the historical migrant routes that thousands of people have traveled over, are very hard to get on now. So it's not just here at the border. Driving around coming north from the border, there are checkpoints all over the highway. So it's very difficult if a migrant is just going to try to travel by bus, even by foot. It's very hard for people to get through. So there are certainly migrants still trying to make their way north towards the United States. But it is way harder than it would have been years ago or even just a few months ago.

SHAPIRO: And that sounds like that means increased business for human traffickers and organized crime.

FREDRICK: If, you know, as a migrant or asylum-seeker, if you're trying to get to the United States, the best option for you is that you have a few thousand dollars that you can pay a smuggler because we know that smugglers are still getting thousands of people north. If you cannot afford a smuggler, it seems very unlikely that you'll be able to make it there, but the smuggling business is certainly still going strong.

SHAPIRO: That's reporter James Fredrick at Mexico's southwestern border crossing with Guatemala. Thanks a lot.

FREDRICK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.