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Border securityMexico should do more to stem tide of Central American children reaching U.S.: Experts

Published 6 August 2014

While Congress and the White House struggle to pass a bipartisan solution to the influx of Central American children and families crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, some immigration experts are urging the Obama administration to put more pressure on the Mexican government to secure its border with Guatemala and Belize. Illegal migration into the United States from Mexico is at its lowest levels in four decades, but the share of Central American migrants detained along the U.S. southern border is at its highest.

While Congress and the White House struggle to pass a bipartisan solution to the influx of Central American children and families crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, some immigration experts are urging the Obama administration to put more pressure on the Mexican government to secure its border with Guatemala and Belize. Illegal migration into the United States from Mexico is at its lowest levels in four decades, but the share of Central American migrants detained along the U.S. southern border is at its highest.

The Washington Post points out that unlike El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, where thousands of migrants leave to enter the United States, Mexico has the infrastructure to secure its borders, a network of highway checkpoints to screen travelers, and large detention centers to hold illegal migrants. Mexico employs tens of thousands of federal police officers and immigration agents capable of detaining and deporting illegal migrants. Mexican officials say that the country has deported more than 60,000 Central Americans since the start of the year, but critics claim that many Mexican law enforcement agents are working for the cartels who have found it lucrative to charge migrants and their smugglers a fee when passing through designated checkpoints.

Mexican Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong announced in July that authorities would take steps to stop migrants from riding atop freight trains that allow them to cross the country with little detection. “We can’t allow them to continue taking these risks and losing their lives without anyone doing anything,” he said. Law enforcement agents are often absent from these rail routes and when they are present, the cartels are reported to be in control.

Why hasn’t Mexico taken care of the trains issue? It’s the most well-known and well-documented aspect of this whole tragedy,” said Eric Olson, an expert on security and migration at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The freight trains are “a concentrated, specific route that people are taking, and it would seem obvious that creating security on the train and keeping migrants off of it would be within the capacity of Mexican security forces. So one has to wonder why it hasn’t happened more quickly and readily,” Olson said.

The United States has spent millions to train immigration agents in Mexico and has shared technology to keep track of migrants along Mexico’s southern border, yet many believe that the Mexican government views Central American illegal migration to be a problem for the United States. Marta Sanchez, a migrant rights advocate disagrees. “Mexico, too, is worried that if more and more Central Americans can’t cross into the United States, they’ll end up getting stuck along the border,” she said, “creating an even bigger security problem.”