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Opinion | Trump Got His Wish. Mexico Is Now the Wall.


Mexico is now the wall. President Trump got his wish.

The heart-wrenching images documenting a recent confrontation in the state of Chiapas, near the border with Guatemala, are evidence of this. Dozens of Mexican National Guard troops equipped with helmets, batons and transparent shields coalesced on the highway connecting the Mexican cities of Ciudad Hidalgo and Tapachula to stop a caravan of migrants heading to the United States from Central America.

The guardsmen used pepper spray on the caravan, which as of mid-January included about 4,000 people, many of them women and children. In the end, hundreds were detained, sent back to Guatemala or deported to Honduras. A spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned the actions of the National Guard, saying that the use of force to stop and disperse immigrants should be avoided.

Mexico has effectively turned into an extension of Mr. Trump’s immigration police beyond American territory. And this is the case on multiple fronts: On the southern border with Guatemala, they prevent Central American migrants from coming into Mexico; on the northern one, they block those seeking entry to the United States from leaving. The decision of Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, also known as AMLO, to follow this approach is misguided. He should let migrants continue their journey north.

Under the Migrant Protection Protocols program, which the Trump administration introduced in January 2019, asylum seekers who attempt to enter the United States at the U.S.-Mexico border may be required to stay in Mexico while the authorities make a decision regarding their case. As of November 2019, over 56,000 people had been sent back to Mexico to wait for the outcome of their applications, according to Human Rights Watch.

This is a radical change in immigration policy for the United States. In the past, Central American asylum seekers were allowed to remain on American soil while waiting for their cases to be processed.

Central American immigration has always been a source of frustration for the United States. But the most powerful country in the world holds a certain degree of responsibility for what goes on in its hemisphere, and it is perfectly capable of accepting the most vulnerable people on the continent. It has done it before, and can still do it.

So when did the United States’ problem become Mexico’s problem? Everything changed because of Donald Trump. By mid-2019, a number of Central American caravans were traveling across Mexico. The president, comparing them to an invasion, warned Mexico that they should do something to stop them, and that he would slap tariffs on all Mexican imports if it didn’t.

“Their right to make a living, to not be abused, to be protected, helped, and supported should be safeguarded,” Mr. López Obrador, then president-elect, said in October 2018 of the Central American migrants heading north. Unfortunately, he has since backtracked, pulling back on his promises to the migrants.

When a journalist asked him during one of his daily news conferences about the harassment and intimidation of Central American migrants in southern Mexico, AMLO refused to take the victims’ side. And Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, acting deputy secretary of Homeland Security, said that the Trump administration had seen more cooperation from Mexico “than anyone thought was possible.”

Mr. Cuccinelli is right. Over a year ago, few would have thought that a leftist president like AMLO (author of a critical book titled “Oye, Trump” and defender of Central Americans crossing Mexico) would suddenly become Mr. Trump’s main ally in immigration matters.

Mr. López Obrador has said that he favors a “peace and love” policy toward the United States and will avoid confrontation with Mr. Trump. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a good relationship with a powerful neighbor who also happens to be your main trade partner. But we should also remember that Mexico has been exporting immigrants to the United States for decades. Millions of us live on American soil.

That’s why I am surprised by the indifference shown by so many Mexicans over the abuses of the National Guard and the vicious attacks on social media aimed at Central Americans. Those xenophobic comments remind me of those I have been hearing for decades here in the United States, and of the appalling mistreatment of Mexican immigrants in recent years. Such abuses should not be forgotten or used to justify a similar treatment of migrants in Mexico.

Northward migration is hardly a new phenomenon. For decades it has provided the United States with a much-needed labor force, and the migrants and refugees who put everything on the line to make the journey with an opportunity to improve their lives. I am fully aware that the American immigration system is far from perfect. It is in dire need of a complete makeover. But Mexico shouldn’t be an extension of the Border Patrol. That makes things worse for everybody.

What should Mexico be doing with migrants from Central America? Just let them go through and protect them as they do so, instead of repressing them. They are fleeing extreme poverty and gang violence. Their only hope is to get to the United States. The Trump administration, not the López Obrador administration, should be receiving them and deciding whether they should be granted political asylum.

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