In Mexico, we complain and protest, and rightly so, when Mexican immigrants are mistreated in the United States. But members of the National Guard and the Mexican Institute for Migration (INM) are mistreating migrants from Central America, Haiti, Colombia, Venezuela and Cuba, among others, who are trying to reach the border with the United States.
That is being two-faced.
In one of those strange coincidences of life, on Aug. 28 Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, aboard a black station wagon, drove past a spot on a highway in the municipality of Huehuetán, Chiapas, just moments after the National Guard and INM agents has brutally repressed hundreds of Central American and Haitian migrants. We don't know what the president saw or what he was told later. But the images are very violent, and shameful.
One migrant with a diapered baby in his arms, half-covered with a plastic sheet, begs members of the National Guard – lined up like a fence across the road with anti-riot equipment and Plexiglas shields – to let them pass. “We have children,” he tells them. “We're not criminals. We're migrants. We just want to move on.” And the Guards do not move.
In another video, they detain an immigrant and throw him to the ground, where a man with a white polo shirt and an INM identification card kicks his head. I also watched a migrant who wore a red cap and held his son as he was attacked from behind and thrown to the ground by an agent in a khaki uniform. They are then surrounded by National Guard agents in a clear abuse of power. And everything happened in full view of the child. (Two INM agents were suspended, and even the United Nations protested the violence against the migrants).
Those images do not match the president's promise on July 10 to “never again repress … those who do not agree with the government and should enjoy all the guarantees to exercise their rights.” Well, these migrants were beaten and repressed in front of children.
Vanished is the López Obrador who said in October 2018 that migration “is not a problem” and that to start with, his government would “never mistreat Central American immigrants.” The images from Chiapas are far from reflecting the “loving republic” the president wanted. This is a country with agents who beat, persecute and block the way for foreigners, many of them traveling with minors. And there have been so many cases that they are not the exception – as the president has suggested.
Why can't the Mexican government treat migrants from Central America and other parts of our continent with the same generosity and solidarity that it offered to Afghan refugees who arrived recently? Mexico – a country from where millions of migrants have left – should protect and take care of Central American migrants crossing its territory toward the U.S. border. Instead, it attacks them and fatally complicates their trek.
“We will continue to contain” the immigrants, AMLO threatened a couple of days ago. He later proposed looking for “long-term solutions.” That sounds good. But any sort of investment in Central America will take years to bear fruit and create jobs. For now, the issue is protecting immigrants who are passing through Mexico.
Mexican Defense Minister Luis Cresencio Sandoval said recently that the armed forces have “the principal goal of detaining all migration” along the southern border. That is a mission impossible. The hunger and fear of Central Americans who are fleeing gangs, extreme poverty and climate change are much more powerful than any attempt to stop them. The United States has never been able to stop immigration along its southern border, and neither will Mexico. That is an effort destined to fail. And to be shameful.
Mexico has become part of the U.S. border wall, first with Donald Trump and now with Joe Biden. Lopez Obrador – fearing economic sanctions by Trump and under not-so-friendly persuasion from the new Biden administration – has approved all U.S. requests on immigration.
AMLO insists that “Mexico is not a rag doll for the United States.” But the National Guard is acting as a substitute for the U.S. Border Patrol. It is another Migra.
And after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the “Remain in Mexico” policy – which forces Central Americans to wait in Mexico for the results of their applications for U.S. entry – the Mexican government has played along without any significant protests.
Now here's a warning to President López Obrador's administration: You are going to lose. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can hold back an immigrant with sick or hungry children; a young woman facing death threats and a sister in danger of being raped unless both join gangs; or a family that's been out of work for years; or a peasant who lost his coffee crop because of a long drought; or a woman who wants her baby to be born with a blue passport so he or she will have more educational opportunities; or a girl who has seen on the Internet that in the United States she can be an astronaut, work for Apple or Google, be a Hollywood actor, play concerts in Madison Square Gardens and score goals in the Olympics; or simply someone who dreams of a different life, a peaceful one.
To violently block the way to immigrants on their way to a better life is petty and useless. In the end, they always win. For example, many of the immigrants stopped in Chiapas are today on their way north. And if they are detained again, they will try again.
In Mexico City's Reforma boulevard, there's a sculpture that says, “Migration is a human right” on one side and “No one is illegal.” We wish it could be moved a little closer to the National Palace.