Mexico, El Salvador presidents to meet on immigration

TAPACHULA, Mexico (AP) — The Mexican and Salvadoran presidents met in Mexico on Thursday to discuss a development plan that aims to slow a surge of mostly Central American migrants toward the U.S. border.

The meeting came amid tough U.S. pressure on President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to do more to curb irregular immigration through Mexican territory. His government has begun deploying some 6,000 National Guard agents to stem the influx and believes that creating more opportunities in Central America is key to avoiding more migration.

But at least some migrants were skeptical.

“This is very good for them to offer jobs” to migrants, said Carlos Vindel a 24-year-old driver from El Salvador who was waiting to request asylum in the southern Mexican city of Tapachula. “But if the violence doesn’t end it won’t work.”

Vindel, traveling with two adults and two minors, crossed the border a day later than expected because he saw five uniformed agents on the banks of the Suchiate River at Talisman, across from Guatemala. The group had to turn around and wait for the agents to leave, and ended up crossing the border on Tuesday.

“Even if there are (development) projects, people are going to keep leaving,” said Vindel, who fled El Salvador after gangs tried to recruit him. Saying no to the likes of the notorious MS-13 and 18th Street gangs is often a death sentence.

El Salvador President Nayib Bukele took office June 1 and shares López Obrador’s view on the need to create opportunities in Central America. As in the neighboring countries of Guatemala and Honduras, thousands of Salvadorans have left the country in recent months to flee poverty and violence.

Bukele has promised a crackdown on gangs in his country following a spate of police and military killings, and on Thursday officers and soldiers began a deployment in commercial areas of the Salvadoran capital’s historic center and 11 other municipalities with a gang presence. Some 80% of gangs’ revenues are said to come from extortion, and Justice Minister Rogelio Rivas said the offensive seeks to strangle financially “the terrorist groups.”

“Now that President Nayib Bukele is hitting them hard, things are going to become more critical,” Vindel said. “There will be more violence because the gangs already respond.”

While the arrival of migrants to Mexico’s southern border appears to have slowed somewhat in recent days with the anticipated arrival of National Guard forces, some continued to trickle in.

“The poverty is not going to change,” said Marisol Martínez, who left El Salvador because her 13-year-old daughter was threatened and she feared a gang would soon come to recruit her 14-year-old son. They entered Mexico this week.

“I was scared,” she said. “But thank God we made it.”

So far this year, more than 24,000 people have requested asylum in Mexico, almost the same number as all of 2018.

Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said Wednesday that there are 14 U.N. agencies prepared to help with the Central America plan. The U.S. has also committed to support it, though there are no concrete details at least publicly available, as well as the European Union.

Those who decide to return to their countries received an offer of help from Mexican discount airline Volaris Thursday.

Volaris said its “Reuniting Families” program will offer Central American migrants who are in Mexico without legal status flights to El Salvador, Guatemala and Costa Rica for $1 plus taxes through June 30. The migrants who show up at airports in Mexico City, Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez and Guadalajara will receive the next available seats.

Many migrants who have registered for refuge in Mexico are hopeful and view positively its programs letting them normalize their migratory status and get temporary employment.

“For the time being I’m going to stay here, as long as there is work,” said María del Carmen Ramírez, a 23-year-old who fled Honduras with her 3-year-old son, sister-in-law and cousin.

But development plans could take a long time to have an effect in Central America, and nobody seems eager to go back right now.

“It’s not only about finding work there,” said Luis Antonio Vázquez, a 23-year-old Salvadoran. “It’s also because they extort you if you have a job.”

In his eyes, the Guard deployment “may give us all security, but it also may not let through many of those who flee to avoid being killed.”

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Associated Press writer Marcos Alemán in San Salvador, El Salvador, contributed to this report.

Categories: International News