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Former Mexican Ambassador To The U.S. Weighs In On Migrant Caravan


All right, let's turn back now to the caravan of migrants. Thousands of Central Americans are now en route from southern Mexico heading to the U.S. to seek, they say, a safer life. The situation puts Mexico in a tough position. The Trump administration doesn't want these migrants to cross into the U.S., but Mexico doesn't seem to be making much effort to stop the migrants from continuing their journey north.

To talk more about Mexico's position in all of this, we're joined now by Arturo Sarukhan. He's a former Mexican ambassador to the U.S. Welcome.

ARTURO SARUKHAN: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

CHANG: So how difficult of a predicament is this for Mexico right now?

SARUKHAN: Well, there's no doubt that Mexico is caught between a rock and a hard place first because the dynamics of the U.S.-Mexico bilateral relationship - transmigration and North American security, the fact that Mexico and the United States have been working hand-in-hand to ensure that our borders are secure - it's also a challenge because of our own relations with Central America and the need to ensure that the Central American nations, particularly Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, can develop in such a way where their economic prosperity can be strengthened.

CHANG: OK, so you cite a number of concerns there - the U.S. relationship with Mexico, the very real migration concerns of migrants coming from Central America into Mexico. Is there also the concern from Mexico about its international image in all of this?

SARUKHAN: Absolutely. There's no doubt that since 2014 when Mexico started repatriating very high numbers of Central American transmigrants that there is a double challenge here. One is domestically because a lot of people in Mexico believe that Mexico is doing the U.S.'s, quote, unquote, "dirty work" by stopping and deporting these individuals back to their countries.

CHANG: Taking care of the problem for the U.S., so to speak.

SARUKHAN: Taking care of the problem for the U.S. with very little in return from the U.S. for doing that. And then the other challenge is with international, multilateral organizations and NGOs that believe - and I agree with them in many ways - that Mexico is not observing its international obligations to provide individuals who have a bona fide reason to fear for their lives with a refugee or asylum hearing in Mexico.

CHANG: We've seen Mexican authorities deploying riot police, but the police don't seem to be using force. They don't seem to be stopping these migrants in any way. Does it seem like Mexico is not making a real effort to stop the flow of these migrants into the U.S.?

SARUKHAN: I think Mexico has been doing yeoman's work in supporting the U.S. since 2014. But...

CHANG: But in this scenario, what does that mean? What does it mean to support the U.S.?

SARUKHAN: Well, it means that those not fleeing because of persecution or fear for their lives - most of them are being detained and deported. And I think that Mexico using force to shut down its border would play into the hands of those who in this country are weaponizing or seeking to weaponize immigration policy and who would use only deterrence to modify transmigration patents that have structural reasons and that will not be addressed by deterrence alone.

CHANG: Do you get the sense that it should be the Mexican government's obligation or it should be their burden to process as many asylum-seekers as possible within Mexico's borders rather than letting them continue their journey to the U.S.?

SARUKHAN: Those who wish to stay in Mexico, absolutely. The problem is that the majority of these Central American...

CHANG: Don't want to stay in Mexico.

SARUKHAN: ...Transmigrants don't want to stay in Mexico. Mexico is a conduit to the U.S.-Mexico border.

CHANG: Right.

SARUKHAN: The challenge is when you, a Mexican authority, tell them, do you want to apply for asylum in Mexico, they say, no, we want to go to the United States. So unless you have something akin to what the U.S. has today with Canada in terms of a Safe Third Country Agreement, it's very hard to ensure that by processing them, they can stay in Mexico instead of...

CHANG: Right.

SARUKHAN: ...Doing the trek to the U.S. border.

CHANG: Well, how do you think the incoming Mexican president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador - how do you think he might approach this situation differently if these caravans do continue into the next Mexican administration?

SARUKHAN: He has said that he will try and give these - many of these Central American migrants a work visa to be able to stay and work in Mexico. For that to be...

CHANG: As a source of labor perhaps.

SARUKHAN: As a source of temporary labor. The problem here is that unless Mexico and also the United States devise a feasible temporary worker program that allows for the legal flow of temporary workers coming back-and-forth our borders, these issues will be stopgap measures.

CHANG: Former Mexican ambassador to the U.S. Arturo Sarukhan, thank you very much for joining us today.

SARUKHAN: My great pleasure to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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