Mexican President gets little backlash for migrant crackdown

MEXICO CITY (AP) – Mexican police, soldiers and National Guard are raiding hotels, buses and trains to round up migrants, creating scenes of weeping Central American mothers piled into police vans along with their children and overflowing detention centres with deplorable conditions.

Such scenes have caused an outcry in the United States (US), but in Mexico there has been little backlash against the government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, even though his country has historically had a deep sympathy for the plight of migrants.

This sympathy has been eroded by the migrant caravans of late 2018 and early 2019, which left a bad taste in the mouth of Mexicans and caused deep divisions among pro-migrant groups.

López Obrador’s reputation as a popular leftist has also muted the response to the crackdown. Add to this the disruption caused by migrants in Mexican border cities and threats of border closures or tariffs from US President Donald Trump, and it has all led many Mexicans to see the waves of migrants as a problem.

Polls say López Obrador’s approval rating has held steady at 66 per cent to 72 per cent despite the crackdown and reports of brutal conditions at the huge Siglo XXI migrant holding facility on Mexico’s southern border and other centres.

Central American migrants are detained during a raid by Mexican immigration agents at the Azteca Hotel in Veracruz, Mexico. – AP

When the first caravan got a warm welcome last October, Mexicans were almost evenly split on whether Mexico should stop migrants from other countries from entering without proper documents, according to an El Universal survey which polled 1,000 people from June 3-7 with a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

Eight months later, 61.5 per cent supported stopping them and only 33 per cent opposed it, according to the same poll.

Even more dramatic was the reversal on giving migrants asylum in Mexico. In October last year, nearly 48 per cent favoured it, while 38 per cent opposed. By June that had flipped, with 57 per cent opposed and 37 per cent favouring.

Even for Mexicans who don’t think Central Americans take jobs from Mexicans or cause increased crime – accusations routinely heard, especially in southern Mexico – there is a sense that too many migrants have come.

“The truth is that it is a problem for everyone. It’s better that they be sent back to their countries,” said Jorge Parada Leon, a Mexico City message delivery worker. “Crossing Mexico the way they do is dangerous, a lot of them have died… they should fix the problems they have in their home countries.”

Many Mexicans are also angered by the idea that Mexico would contribute money for development aid in Central America.