Central America Migrant Flow to US Slows

Olga R. Rodriguez, AP, April 13, 2008

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Central Americans without documents now face increased security within Mexico, including checks on the train for stowaways. It’s also harder for them to head north once they cross into Mexico because of hurricane damage to the train tracks.

The result: The number of non-Mexican migrants stopped by the U.S. Border Patrol has dropped almost 60 percent from 2005, despite increased detention efforts. About 68,000 non-Mexican migrants—mostly Central Americans—were detained last year, compared to 165,000 in 2005. Non-Mexicans make up about 10 percent of all migrants caught by Border Patrol officers.

Mexico itself is also seeing fewer illegal immigrants—120,000 were arrested last year, a 50 percent drop from 2005, when Hurricane Stan hit and destroyed the railroad, according to the National Immigration Institute. Since President Felipe Calderon took office two years ago, Mexico has added more soldiers and federal police on its border with Guatemala and more immigration and military checkpoints throughout the south.

Despite its efforts to secure its own southern border, Mexico does not try to stop its own citizens from crossing north illegally into the United States, beyond pursuing drug and people smugglers. By law, Mexico notes, Mexicans can go wherever they want within the country, including the border. They don’t break any laws until they are on U.S. soil.

Many Mexicans are also sympathetic to illegal immigrants from Central America, but the issue still causes some tensions that echo the U.S. debate. Isaac Castillo, owner of the Hotel La Posada in Arriaga, argues that Central American immigrants often end up working in Mexico, where wages can be double the few dollars a day they might earn at home.

“The problem isn’t just in the U.S., but in Mexico, because a lot of Central Americans want to stay here and compete with Mexicans for jobs,” he said.

The crackdown on Central American migrants has left them searching for new routes. Some pay smugglers $7,000 to go by boat into southern Mexico, then hide in tractor-trailers heading north.

These boats and trucks try to evade highway checkpoints set up every few miles alongside most of Mexico’s southern roadways. But migrants have been crushed to death when false floors collapsed under the weight of freight, and 22 Salvadoran migrants drowned in an October shipwreck off the coast of southern Oaxaca state.

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