MEXICO CITY – The immigration agreement between Mexico and the United States that averted U.S. tariffs on Mexican imports has a clear beneficiary, experts say: human traffickers.
Under the pact reached Friday night, Mexico will deploy its recently created National Guard along the border with Guatemala, as well as dismantle groups that smuggle people across borders.
However, experts predict that as the National Guard presence increases on the southern border, the business of human trafficking will only grow.
“There will be more mechanisms of control, there will be greater rigidity, and that will cause an increase in the cost of crossing, which will strengthen organized crime’s business of trafficking people,” said Javier Urbano, a researcher in international affairs at the Universidad Iberoamericana.
“The greater the difficulty, the greater the cost and the greater the demand for traffickers,” he said.
Mexican and American authorities reached the agreement late Friday in the face of a U.S. threat to levy five percent tariffs on all Mexican imports, beginning Monday and escalating to 25 percent by October.
“What I see is extortion: there are no tariffs and Mexico accepts a series of things that have many complications for the country,” said Leticia Calderon, an expert on migration at the Mora Institute, a research center in Mexico City.
Mexican activists and opposition politicians say the pact also implies the militarization of the southern border.
Placing pressure on migrants is nothing new for the Mexican authorities.
For months now, roundups and detentions of migrants have been constant in southern Mexico, despite the open-door rhetoric of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who assumed office in December.
Arrests of foreigners in Mexican territory rose from 8,248 people in January to 23,679 in May. The great majority of those detained were Central Americans, according to the most recent government statistics.
Deportations also have been spiraling upward, from 5,884 in January to 16,507 in May, most of them Salvadorans, Guatemalans or Hondurans.
Luis Villagran, an activist who often accompanies the migrants on their journeys north, says those hard-line tactics have only driven up demand for traffickers.
“What this close-minded migratory policy (means) … is a high number of Central Americans who are going with human traffickers,” he said.
While many migrants attempt to cross into Mexico from the Guatemalan border, Villagran said another corridor is taking shape on Mexico’s southern border with Belize.
“They charge $900 to pass them across, and there are no troops deployed there,” Villagran said.
Urbano, the international relations specialist, said the arrests of migrants and the agreement reached Friday show the extent to which Mexico’s immigration policies are synchronized with those of the United States.
“We have almost a sick dependence on the economy of the United States, and we live in synchronicity with that country’s security agenda,” he said.
Despite the pressure tactics by the U.S. and Mexican governments, Villagran insists: “Migration will not stop.”
Since last October, the number of Central Americans trying to reach the United States through Mexico has increased as they flee violence and poverty in their own countries.
In addition to the Central Americans, there are migrants from Cuba and as far away as Eritrea or the Democratic Republic of Congo.
To deal with the emergency, Lopez Obrador’s government is betting that a development plan for Central America can stem the flow of migrants.
But the migrants are placing their own bets on reaching the United States, and quickly.
“The fear is that they may close the border. But you know the immigrant will always get through. They can close the border, they can build 1,000 walls and a thousand more and they will still get in,” said Josue Arenal, a 57-year-old Honduran migrant at a shelter in the city of Tapachulas, in the southern state of Chiapas.
“Donald Trump can do what he can, but he will never stop the migrants,” he added.