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As Mexico negotiates a tariff deal with its northern neighbor, the National Guard has been sent to stem the flow of migrants coming from Central America. The US is pressing for changes in asylum law.
Mexico is sending 6,000 members of the National Guard to reinforce its long and tangled border with southern neighbor Guatemala.
"We have explained that there are 6,000 men and that they will be deployed there," Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said after leaving trade talks in Washington on Thursday. He said talks would continue Friday.
The move comes as Mexican officials negotiate with the US government over 5% tariffs that are set to be imposed on all its products starting Monday unless Mexico is seen to be taking measures against Central American migrants. Unless an agreement is reached, the tariffs would be increased steadily to 25% by October.
US Vice President Mike Pence said that while he was "encouraged" by Mexico's latest proposals, it would be "for the president to decide" if enough was being done to head off the tariffs.
US eyes migration, Mexico looks to development
US demands for the talks include securing the border, making it difficult for people entering Mexico from other countries to claim asylum in the US and cracking down on criminal smuggling organizations that charge migrants thousands of dollars to cross borders.
Washington is putting pressure on Mexico to change its asylum laws and to serve as a "safe third country," which would allow the US to deport Guatemalan asylum-seekers to Mexico and send Honduran and Salvadoran asylum-seekers to Guatemala.
"We continue to explore options to address the growing number of undocumented migrants that cross Mexico," Ebrard wrote on Twitter. "The US position is focused on immigration enforcement measures, ours on development. We have not yet reached an agreement but we continue negotiating."
Mexico's National Guard deployed
The new Mexican government under President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador had resisted US pressure to control migrants moving across its territory towards the US, but in recent weeks has started to restrict visas and deport people back into Guatemala.
In February, Mexico's Congress approved the creation of a 60,000 strong National Guard to improve security in the country to deal with drug gangs, thousands of murders and people smuggling. Personnel have been drawn from existing federal, military and naval police rosters.
Security forces at the border have already detained a migrant caravan of several hundred people and deported them to Guatemala, and frozen bank accounts of alleged smugglers.
Mexico’s Finance Ministry said this week it had blocked the bank accounts of 26 people who had participated "in the trafficking of migrants and the illegal organization of migrant caravans."
Mexico's border with Guatemala is 1,138 kilometers (707 miles) long, much of it through open grassland and jungle. It is relatively easy for migrants to cross without documentation.
According to the Mexican government, 300,000 migrants have crossed from Guatemala so far this year and authorities have detained 51,000 of them. This represents a 17% increase over the same period in 2018.
The US Department of Homeland Security said on Wednesday that the number of people detained at the border in May had risen to the highest number in a decade: 132,887. Of these, 11,507 were children traveling alone.
jm/sms (Reuters, AFP, EFE)