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Americas

As Trump plans wall, Pena Nieto watches the Mexico line

US President Donald Trump is facing growing criticism for his harsh approach to migrants - but so is Mexico's Enrique Pena Nieto. It's just the latest in the saga of the Americas' increasingly militarized borders.

Mexico could just as easily be called an accessory to the US's immigration policies as it coulda victim of them:  The newly inaugurated Donald Trump has rightly been criticized for his statements about immigrants and approach to unauthorized migration, but Enrique Pena Nieto,  his more seasoned Mexican counterpart, is hardly innocent.   

"Mexico since 2014 has dramatically increased his enforcement efforts and travelling through Mexico continues to be very dangerous for central American migrants," said Maureen Meyer, a migration expert at the Washington Office of Latin America (WOLA). "It also is very difficult for Central American migrants to enter the US. To cross the US border undetected is very difficult, it's very expensive, people die. That actually is going to be harder with increased enforcement - whether it is more wall or additional agents."

This is confirmed by figures from Mexico's Interior Ministry. Between 2010 and 2015, the number of people deported increased from 65,802 to 176,726 people annually. Last year, the number was 147,000. Over 90 percent of them were originally from Central American countries such as Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

Since the Southern Border Program to extend controls was approved in 2014, traveling across Mexico has become even more difficult for people without the authorization to do so. They have to pass through checkpoints and passport controls on freeways, at bus stops and at the roadside; they can be found out at any time. According to WOLA, the number of arrests at border crossings from Guatemala and Belize rose from 96,298 people in 2013 to 198,141 in 2015.

Police brutality

The Latin American migration network Redodom carried out a survey of 30,000 people who had been deported. Forty-five percent of the respondents said they had been subjected to violence by organized criminal gangs. Almost the same number, 41 percent, complained of acts of violence by Mexico's security forces.

"The Mexican state is not meeting international and constitutional obligations," Redodom found, "because it does not respect the human rights of migrants." In other words, practical politics is at odds with the government's official human rights discourse.

The hard line against immigrants from Central and South America doesn't seem to have paid off politically for the government. Mexicans certainly do not feel that they have received their due gratitude from Washington. "They feel that they have helped the US a lot in the past few years and got very little in return," WOLA's Meyer said.

This is why Meyer is convinced that President Pena Nieto might bring up migration in any future upcoming negotiations with the Trump administration on security at the US-Mexico border. She said many Mexicans did not understand why their country should have to intercept migrants trying to pass through it to reach the United States.

'Separation of families'

Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, also enacted harsh policies toward immigrants, perhaps hoping in the hopes that his fervor would impress the opposition Republicans in Congress. During the eight years he was in office, from 2009 to 2017, nearly 3 million people were deported - more than under any other president.

"He really believed that if he showed Republicans that he was tough on migration, which means increasing deportations, he was sooner or later to convince them to pass immigration reform in the Congress," Meyer said. "What happened was mass deportations of migrants, separation of millions of families and increased militarization of the US-Mexican border," she added.

The number of deportations has now dropped again. It peaked in 2013, when the Obama administration sent 435,000 people back to their homelands. In 2016 the number of deportations fell to less than 150,000.

Tax on transfers?

Now millions of people in the United States fear a fresh wave of arrests and deportations. In addition to building his promised border wall, President Trump has expressed a desire to add an additional 5,000 Border Patrol agents.

A new idea for financing the building of the wall is already doing the rounds. The Republican Congressman Mike Rogers from Alabama has proposed that remittances sent to Mexico should be subject to a 2 percent tax.

At first glance, this looks like a lucrative business. Between November 2016 and January 2017, Mexicans sent $27 billion dollars (25 million euros) back to their homeland. Taxing remittances could mean $540 million toward Trump's $21.6 billion wall.

For Mexico's economy, though, it would constitute another blow. It would also presumably result in another legal battle for the new US administration. A transaction tax that targets a single demographic group is almost certainly unconstitutional.

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