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Mexican authorities clear border tent camp as U.S. pressure mounts to stem migrant influx

MATAMOROS, Mexico (AP) — A ragged migrant tent camp next to the Rio Grande in Matamoros, Mexico, is far from the country’s National Palace, where a high-level U.S. delegation met with Mexico’s president to demand more actions to slow down the influx of migrants reaching the US border.

But as Mexican officials in Matamoros worked Wednesday with bulldozers to clear out what they claimed were abandoned tents, it was likely a sign of things to come.

The United States has given clear signs – by temporarily closing key border rail crossings into Texas – that it needs Mexico to do more to stop migrants from jumping on freight cars, buses and trucks all the way. ‘at the border.

Mexico, which desperately wants these crossings reopened to its manufactured goods, is starting to show signs that it is going to crack down a bit.

This was on display in Matamoros as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico City.

Migrants set up camp in Matamoros, across from Brownsville, Texas, in late 2022. It once held up to 1,500 migrants, but many tents have been vacated in recent months as migrants ford the river to reach the United States.

Migrants walk along a highway in Huixtla, Mexico, Monday, Dec. 25, 2023. A caravan of migrants headed north and south into Mexico just days before the U.S. secretary of state arrived Antony Blinken in Mexico to discuss new agreements aimed at controlling rising population flows. migrants seeking to enter the United States. (AP Photo/Edgar H. Clemente)

Segismundo Doguín, head of the local office of the Mexican immigration agency, said: “What we are doing is removing all the tents that we see empty. »

But a Honduran migrant who wanted to give only his first name, José, said some of the remaining 200 migrants were virtually forced to leave the camp when the cleanup operation began Tuesday evening.

“They chased us out,” he said, saying the migrants were given short notice to move their tents and belongings and felt intimidated by bulldozers moving through the tents. “You had to run for your life to avoid an accident. »

Some migrants settled in a fenced area of ​​the camp where immigration officials said they could resettle, but fear was pervasive.

Migrants cross the Rio Grande River to reach the United States from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Christian Chavez)

Migrants cross the Rio Grande River to reach the United States from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Christian Chavez)

About 70 migrants jumped into the river Tuesday evening and crossed the border into the United States. They were stuck for hours along the riverbank, under concertina cables installed by order of the Texas governor.

There are few options for migrants asked to leave the encampment, said Glady Cañas, founder of a Matamoros-based nongovernmental organization, Ayudandoles a Triunfar, or Help Them Win.

“The truth is that the shelters are saturated,” Cañas said.

She was working at the camp Wednesday afternoon, walking through tents and encouraging migrants to avoid crossing the border illegally into the United States, especially after several people drowned in recent days trying to swim across the river.

This month, up to 10,000 migrants have been stopped daily at the southwest U.S. border. The United States has struggled to welcome thousands of migrants at the border and house them once they reach northern cities.

Mexican industries were hit last week when the United States briefly closed two vital rail crossings in Texas, arguing that Border Patrol agents needed to be reassigned to deal with the surge. A non-rail crossing remained closed in Lukeville, Arizona, and border operations were partially suspended in San Diego and Nogales, Arizona.

Migrants wait in line after being detained by U.S. immigration authorities at the U.S. border wall, seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Christian Chavez)

Migrants wait in line after being detained by U.S. immigration authorities at the U.S. border wall, seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Christian Chavez)

Foreign Relations Secretary Alicia Bárcena said after the talks in Mexico City that the Mexican government’s priority was to get the United States to reopen border crossings closed due to the influx of migrants.

“We talked about the importance of the border and the economic relationship… the importance of reopening the border crossings, it is a priority for us,” Bárcena said after the meeting in which also included the American Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro. Mayorkas and Homeland Security Advisor Liz Sherwood-Randall.

Mexico already has more than 32,000 troops and National Guard troops — about 11 percent of its total force — assigned to enforce immigration laws.

But the shortcomings of Mexico’s efforts were highlighted Tuesday, when members of the National Guard made no attempt to stop about 6,000 migrants, most of them from Central America and Venezuela, after crossing on foot through Mexico’s main immigration inspection point in southern Chiapas state, near the border with Guatemala.

In the past, Mexico has let such caravans of migrants pass through, hoping they would tire of walking along the highway.

On Wednesday, Lazara Padrón Molina, 46, from Cuba, was sick and exhausted. The caravan left the town of Tapachula on Sunday and walked about 75 kilometers in the heat to Escuintla, in southern Chiapas state.

“The route is too long to continue walking. Why don’t they just give us documents so we can take a bus or a taxi? » said Padrón Molina. “Look at my feet,” she said, pointing to blisters. “I can not stand it anymore.”

But exhausting migrants — by forcing Venezuelans and others to hike the jungles of the Darien Gap between Colombia and Panama or to herd migrants off passenger buses in Mexico — no longer appears to be working.

A convoy of National Guard soldiers passes migrants walking north on the side of the highway in Villa Comaltitlan, in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Edgar H. Clemente)

A convoy of National Guard soldiers passes migrants walking north on the side of the highway in Villa Comaltitlan, in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Edgar H. Clemente)

So many migrants took freight trains through Mexico that one of the country’s two main railroads suspended its trains in September over safety concerns. Police raids to remove migrants from train cars — the kind of action Mexico took a decade ago — might be something the U.S. delegation would like to see.

The Texas railroad closures put a damper on freight moving from Mexico to the United States as well as grain needed to feed Mexican livestock moving south.

López Obrador says he is ready to help, but wants the United States to send more development aid to migrants’ countries of origin, reduce or eliminate sanctions against Cuba and Venezuela and begin a dialogue between the United States and Cuba.

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Associated Press writers Edgar H. Clemente and Mark Stevenson contributed to this report.

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Follow AP’s coverage of Latin America and the Caribbean at https://apnews.com/hub/latin-america

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Follow AP’s migration coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/migration.

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