MEXICO CITY — It’s been less than seven weeks since Mexico agreed — under fierce pressure from the Trump administration — to clamp down on the flow of migrants crossing the country to reach the United States.
Now the Mexican government is claiming success: A 36 percent drop in arrests at the U.S. border.
“We have managed to apply our strategy,” Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard told reporters Monday. Given those results, he said, Mexico would not accept a U.S. proposal that would force many migrants to apply for protection in this country instead of seeking asylum in the United States.
In the week before the June 7 agreement, Ebrard said, an average of 4,156 migrants per day were arrested near the U.S. border. By last week, the daily average had dropped to 2,652 — a decline of 36 percent.
The U.S. government, using different metrics, said last month that arrests near the border had plunged more than 28 percent from May to June.
Detentions of migrants — a rough proxy for the flow of undocumented foreigners — typically decrease in the summer months because of searing heat along the journey through Mexico. But President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s decision to deploy over 21,000 National Guard and military forces to its northern and southern borders appears to have had its own effect on the number of migrants reaching the U.S. border.
“This is a paradigm shift, a turning point for the way we control our borders and for our institutions in charge of migration and asylum,” said Gustavo Mohar, who has held senior government positions overseeing migration and security in Mexico.
But he warned that Mexico risks a rise in human rights abuses if it continues to use soldiers and police to help stop and process migrants. He said the government should transform its understaffed, poorly funded migration agency instead.
Nor is there any guarantee that migrants will stop attempting the journey. Smugglers, Mohar said, will undoubtedly seek to find new ways to sneak them through the country — and people will continue to flee violence, poverty, drought and political turmoil in Central America.
“The structural factors in Central America aren’t going to change in the short or medium term,” he said.
López Obrador, a leftist, gave in to U.S. demands to step up enforcement after Trump threatened to slap tariffs on all Mexican goods. Mexico’s economy is already in a slump, and the country is heavily dependent on trade with its northern neighbor.
The two countries agreed to gauge progress after 45 days. If there weren’t sufficient results, Mexican officials said at the time, they would open negotiations with Washington on a “safe third country” agreement, under which many migrants would be required to make their asylum claims in Mexico rather than the United States.
The 45-day deadline fell on Monday. But Ebrard said Monday that such talks were unnecessary. He spoke a day after receiving U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“Yesterday we didn’t discuss a safe third country agreement, because Mexico managed to remove it from the conversation,” he told reporters. “Because Mexico fulfilled its commitments.”
Pompeo gave a more measured assessment Sunday, saying that Mexico had “made real progress” but cautioning that “we’ve got a long way to go yet.”
The sides have agreed to meet in another 45 days to review the numbers again.
Mexican forces have sharply increased their detentions of undocumented migrants. In June, Mexico deported 21,912 foreigners, the government reported, triple the number during the same month last year.
Mexico has also intensified its investigations into migrant-smuggling groups. Officials said Monday they had broken up a smuggling ring that used tractor trailers bearing the names of grocery stores or other businesses to move people.
So far, the government has faced only limited political backlash over its new enforcement efforts. Public opinion swung sharply against undocumented migrants after several large caravans of Central Americans crossed the country, making the issue far more visible than in the past.
Fifty-five percent of Mexicans polled by The Washington Post and the newspaper Reforma this month supported the deportation of U.S.-bound migrants. (Mexico’s largest immigrant group is actually Americans, and they have suffered no such antagonism.)
But human rights groups are concerned about using the National Guard to enforce migration law. They have complained, for example, about security forces trying to enter migrant shelters run by charitable groups.
López Obrador said last month that members of the National Guard acted incorrectly in grabbing a woman and her daughter as they attempted to cross the Rio Grande — an action that was captured in a photo that ricocheted around social media.
“If such cases occurred, this is not the order that [security forces] received; it isn’t their job; this is something that should be done by migration agents, not the army,” the president said.