(Bloomberg) — A caravan of as many as 3,000 migrants is testing Mexico’s pledge to President Donald Trump to halt undocumented arrivals to the U.S.
For the first time since Mexico began its full-scale crackdown against migrants, a caravan is clashing with Mexican security forces at the country’s southern border. After being turned away at a bridge crossing, hundreds of members waded across a shallow river on Monday from the Guatemalan side into Mexico.
Later in the day, migrants could be seen throwing objects at Mexican National Guard troops who were repelling them, according to media footage. One video showed women and children caught up in the clash.
Mexico faced generalized tariff threats from Trump last year if it didn’t slow the number of Central American migrants reaching the U.S. In response, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador sent thousands of National Guard troops to Mexico’s southern and northern borders, helping bring down the number of crossings dramatically from a peak last spring.
“Trump’s threats led to a revision of what was going on at the southern border,” said Jesus Cantu, a spokesman for Lopez Obrador, in an interview Monday. “Mexico isn’t acting as a retaining wall. All risks were identified and what Mexico is doing is adhering to the law.”
The caravan could be used by Trump to attack Mexico, especially in the run-up to the presidential election this year, said Carlos Bravo, a political scientist at Mexico City’s Center for Economic Research and Teaching.
“With the U.S. elections coming up, Trump will have the resource of using Mexico as a piñata,” Bravo said. “That’s why Mexico is doing what it’s doing” to try and stop the caravan.
Over the weekend, Mexican National Guard troops had shut the gates of a border bridge to prevent caravan members from entering and used pepper spray to keep them at bay. But that didn’t stop some from crossing the river.
On Friday, before the clashes, Lopez Obrador had promised caravan members jobs. “We have more than 4,000 jobs available at the southern border,” he said.
More than 1,000 migrants opted for that path over the weekend and were transported to Mexican immigration centers for processing, according to The Associated Press.
But immigrant rights groups warned that they may just have been rounded up in order to be deported. The Mexican government issued a statement Sunday that most of the 1,087 migrants it received from the border in Chiapas and Tabasco will be returned to their countries “should the situation merit it.”
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