Thousands of asylum seekers from Central America and beyond faced one of the most treacherous parts of their journey to the United States on Monday. Thousands of newly stationed members of Mexico’s National Guard used everything at their disposal – including rocks, tear gas and pepper spray – to stop folks from crossing the southern border of Mexico, according to The Wall Street Journal. It is 2020’s first en masse attempt to challenge Donald Trump’s plan to restrict entry to asylum seekers by way of Mexican and Guatemalan authorities.
Mexico’s National Guard was created in 2019 to fight violent crime and battle drug cartels. In July of that year, their mission and purpose pivoted to illegal immigration prevention. About 20,000 members of the Guard work across approximately 15 miles of Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala – a slow, steady and significant spike from the 6,500 troops the NPR saw in the summer. An additional 500 troops were sent over just last week as news of the incoming caravan spread.
Their presence at the border was initially meant to be solely symbolic. Guards would protect immigration agents and intimidate immigrants but never act. “My government is not in favor of the use of force to contain migration,” Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said last year. On Monday, tensions rose and troops at the border reportedly used tear gas to divide the group.
“If we all come over to the National Guard for this work, who will go after the traffickers of drugs and people?” a concerned, anonymous member of the Guard told NPR earlier last year.
Their increasingly violent presence at the border presents a concerning reshuffling of priorities that can only further deepen the issues that push people to the border in the first place – crime, violence, extreme poverty and more.
The Mexico-Guatemala border was previously an easy and largely unprotected point of entry into Mexico, with most visitors acting as just that – visitors. In November, the Trump administration vowed to send asylum seekers to Guatemala (and eventually El Salvador and Honduras). They also threatened Mexico with tariffs on Mexican goods – a potential bluff that led López Obrador to agree to the rigorous immigration enforcement deal.
“López Obrador and Mexico have become Trump’s wall,” said Irineo Mujica, the head of advocacy group People Without Borders.