Sadly, when it comes to immigration, Donald Trump has got what he wanted. As another caravan of Central Americans fleeing extreme poverty and violence treks northward across the continent, Trump has successfully coerced multiple governments south of the border into putting up a wall of both legal instruments and violent repression by state security forces to make sure this group does not even reach the U.S. border.
At the point of his Twitter gun, he has strong-armed the recently inaugurated President of Guatemala, Alejandro Giammattei, into accepting his “Safe Third Party” agreement. So much so that Giammattei made his first act of international relevance a bow of obedience and submission down to the agreement, signed by his unpopular predecessor.
Even in the transition period after winning the election, Giammattei criticised the agreement saying, “To be a safe country, (a country) must be authorised as such by an international body. I do not believe that Guatemala…can fill the requirements of a safe third country, we do not fit that definition.” He continued, “we do not agree with it (the agreement).”
Basically the entire ruling class of Guatemala, on both sides of the political spectrum, has given in to Trump. After finalising the details of the agreement, Giammattei’s predecessor, Jimmy Morales, planned a trip to Washington to shake hands with Trump in an official signing ceremony. On the day he was meant to leave, he was forced to cancel the trip because of a ruling by Guatemala’s highest court declaring he did not have the authority to sign such an agreement.
The injunction was brought before the country’s Constitutional Court by a group of former Guatemalan foreign ministers. Gabriel Orellana, one of the former foreign ministers who filed the injunction, said, “ Guatemala utterly lacks the institutions able to offer migrants the minimal conditions with respect to human rights.
In response to the injunction and Morales’ cancelation of the trip, Trump went to Twitter. In typical fashion, he tweeted, Guatemala “has decided to break the deal they had with us on signing a Safe Third Agreement. We were ready to go. Now we are looking at the “BAN,” Tariffs, Remittance Fees, or all of the above.”
The tweet was embarrassing for Morales, who had consistently said he was not going to the U.S. to sign any such agreement. However, the result was even more embarrassing for Guatemala as a country.
Within a matter of days after the tweet, a new deal was signed. The deal stated that Salvadoran and Honduran migrants that pass through Guatemalan territory on their path to seek asylum in the U.S. must do so in Guatemala first, those that did not would not be eligible for asylum in the U.S. In return, Guatemalan agricultural workers were granted better access to work on U.S. farms.
The legalities of the agreement remained dubious given the previous court ruling. However, there was no injunction against this agreement by the former foreign ministers. It amounted to a complete capitulation and subordination by Guatemala’s ruling class to Washington.
Mexico, for its part, under the pseudo-leftist presidency of Andrés Manuel López Obrador has completely caved under the threat of tariffs and potential border closings.
After promising not to militarise the country even further, he created an entirely new branch of the military, the National Guard. Under U.S. pressure to crackdown on immigration, Mexico deployed the National Guard multiple times to repress asylum seekers, including over 14,000 members to the U.S.-Mexico border in June.
Essentially, López Obrador has become the commander of Trump’s Mexico division of the U.S. Border Control.
Before considering who is to blame for this state of affairs, let us look at the situation itself.
The current caravan is reportedly made up of between 3,000 and 4,000 people, mostly Hondurans and to a lesser extent Salvadorans and Guatemalans. It began on January 15 in the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula, infamous for having the highest murder rate in the world outside of war zones.
The caravan crossed into Guatemala throughout the next two days. Despite facing teargas from Guatemalan authorities, they were for the most part allowed to enter. The group then travelled through Guatemala and arrived at the Guatemala-Mexico border on January 19.
When the caravan was sitting on the border waiting to enter Mexico, Mexico’s Interior Minister, Olga Sanchez Cordero, told reporters, “Those who only want to use Mexico as a transit country are not welcome.”
Trying to maintain his image as a man of the poor and forgotten, López Obrador later stated “we have more than 4000 jobs available at the southern border.”
However, on the first day in which some members of the caravan entered Mexico and accepted to be processed by the country’s authorities, the Mexican Government released a statement saying “once the particular migratory condition is revised, the assisted return to their countries of origin will proceed, should the situation merit it.”
Naturally, this caused many members of the caravan who were still on the Guatemalan side of the border to fear deportation. These fears were proven true when Mexican security forces closed one of the main bridges connecting the two countries over a river, forcing the asylum seekers to wade through it to enter Mexico.
Footage captured from the day shows some of the world’s most vulnerable people, many carrying young children, struggling through a river and then having to sprint out to avoid teargas and batons of the Mexican National Guard.
Over the next few days, as various other groups tried to enter from Guatemala, more footage was captured of violent state security repression. One scene was even resemblant of a modern-day medieval battle, with the National Guard and migrants meeting on a road and slowly walking towards each other until it turned into a full-blown confrontation.
It remains to be seen what will become of this migrant caravan. It seems certain though, that very few will reach the U.S. border. Many will be forcibly deported back to their countries of origin where they face extreme violence and poverty.
Presumably, out of sheer desperation, some will take up the “job offer” of President López Obrador, although this offers no certainty and no long-term solution to their struggles.
There is however, one big winner in all of this, Donald Trump. He can now claim that his tough border policy is working. The reality, of course, is that all this policy does is increase the suffering of asylum seekers and further violates their human rights to seek asylum.
Furthermore, as Mexico is incapable of providing for the ones that choose to stay, these people will be forced into a more precarious and vulnerable state of affairs.
This could easily become the new normal. Trump has shown future U.S. presidents a way to make Central American governments bend to whatever Washington wants. It is a dangerous tool that offers a solution outside of U.S. territory and therefore, some will say, outside of U.S. responsibility.