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Mexican Officials Stopping Central American Migrants From Heading North

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: For years, migrants hoping to reach the United States’ southern border have crossed by land from Central America and into Mexico. Senior field correspondent Jorge Valencia traveled from KJZZ’s Mexico City Bureau to that country’s southern border this week. He says Mexican authorities are stopping thousands of migrants from continuing their trek north, and he joins us over the line. Good morning, Jorge.

JORGE VALENCIA: Hey, good morning, Steve.

GOLDSTEIN: So I can hear some sounds in the background— where exactly are you right now?

VALENCIA: Yeah, I am on the bank of a river called the Suchiate which is what separates Guatemala and Mexico. And what I'm looking at here is a bunch of guys pushing rafts that have people on them commuters going from one side to the other to work or to do business, and also some rafts just full of just merchandise that they basically they sell back and forth. I am looking at pails full of Coca-Cola bottles they're still even pushed a washing machine. Just basically anything that they can get cheaper on one side of the border they’ll go buy it, cross it over and sell it on the other side

GOLDSTEIN: Now, much of the news here in the US has been focused on the US and Mexico border about border crossings — how easy it is to make the border crossing from where you are?

VALENCIA: It's very easy because this is more or less what the what the economy for these two times is based off of people going back and forth people who live here or commuting. And for roughly $3 these guys will push you across its and it's very narrow river.  I'm looking at the other side's about the length of a football field — you’ll pay $3 and they'll cross you to get to the other side. It is very easy to cross from one side to the other. What is happening more recently is that Mexican immigration authorities are making it more difficult for migrants — people who are traveling from Central America for coming from much farther away — to continue into Mexico. And I spoke to an anthropologist who who is here and who studies this. His name is Abbdel Camargo and he is a professor at a university here called el Colegio De La Frontera Sur.

ABBDEL CAMARGO: "Estan cansando, debilitando, dividiendo, obstaculizando ese transito seguro, libre y ordenado"

VALENCIA: What this professor is saying is that what authorities are slowing down the process for migrants to be able to obtain permits to transit through the country for a few days or a few weeks legally. And the reason why they're doing that in his interpretation and through his research is that authorities are trying to basically demoralize — make it more difficult, to tire them so that it is harder for them to reach the US border.

GOLDSTEIN: We’ve heard so much rhetoric here in the US about the president saying that Mexico needs to crack down on this. Any chance of that has influence this or is this Mexico's own decision?

VALENCIA: There are two answers to that question. I think what it looks like from the ground is that absolutely the tweets from President Donald Trump and just the communication from Homeland Security to counterparts here absolutely influencing that. So that's the first half of the answer. The second half to give a little bit further context is that Mexico is simply saying ‘we want to give migrants humane treatment, protect their human rights and we simply have gotten a wave of migrants and we just cannot process them quickly enough.’

GOLDSTEIN: Jorge, you mentioned you're on the southern part of Mexico who have you met who's hoping to make it that much further north into the us and what are they telling you?

VALENCIA: A majority of the migrants who are here are certainly coming from northern Central America and a majority of those are coming from Honduras. Many of the ones that I've met they did tell similar stories are fleeing gang violence, some say that they are close to starving to death because he couldn't find work. But also there are people who are coming from much farther away. I met a man who said he was travelling all the way from Congo he's telling for about 2 years with his wife and what is now their three-year-old son. His name is Igor I just want to play a little bit of what he had to say.

IGOR: "On nas pas de bonnes conditiones sanitaires. on n'a pas d'eau. on n'a pas de noirriture. on n'a pas de services médicaux. on est vraiment, vraiment abandonne."

VALENCIA: What Igor here is illustrating is that he saying that that he and many of the people that he's with acoustic by here or are living in like subhuman conditions because they can't continue through they have no access to potable water they have no access to food. In fact where I met him was it is sort of makeshift tent city that was outside of an immigration office here. They are outside of the immigration office waiting to be processed waiting to receive some sort of a permit that the Mexican government issues so that people can leave the country. And so what they do is they use that to travel legally through Mexico and get to the US border and petition for entry there.

GOLDSTEIN: And Jorge, finally, you’ll be continuing your reporting this week from the southern border of Mexico so what can we expect what you looking for next?

VALENCIA: Right now, when we get off the line I'm going to cross the river into the town and the Guatemala side which Tecun Uman. I’m going to go to a shelter that I'm going to try to cross maybe couple times today because we really want to get a better idea of what the situation is like for people who are crossing why did why they want to do it and how they do it. Later we're going to be going to a couple of these immigration offices to meet some more of the people who are traveling to get a better idea of why they're coming here. And then also what might happen to them whether or not they might gets Mexican authorities might deport them back to their countries of origin or if they might eventually continue to reach the border with many in Tijuana crossing San Diego or maybe even in Sonora across from Arizona.

GOLDSTEIN: And that is reporter Jorge Valencia from KJZZ’s Mexico City bureau. He is on Mexico's southern border right now doing some recording. Jorge, thanks so much for your time today.

VALENCIA: You're welcome, Steve.

Steve Goldstein was a host at KJZZ from 1997 to 2022.