Mexican Town Once Welcomed Migrants. Now It Blames Mexico’s President for Them.

Mexican Town Once Welcomed Migrants. Now It Blames Mexico’s President for Them.

MAPASTEPEC, Mexico — Like so many others in his impoverished part of southern Mexico, Joaquín Ramírez, a corn farmer, eagerly cast his vote in the presidential election last year for Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

But less than five months into Mr. López Obrador’s term, Mr. Ramírez’s view of the president has begun to sour.

The reason, he said, is evident in the tens of thousands of migrants from Central America and elsewhere who have stopped in his small town in recent months en route to the United States border, taxing government resources and the patience of residents.

Mr. Ramírez blames the influx on the president’s migrant-friendly messaging and policies.

“By trying to do good, he has done a lot of bad,” Mr. Ramírez said in the main square in the town of Mapastepec. “It seems like he is more worried about them than about his own people.”

The resentment is heated enough that local officials in the nearby town of Huixtla tried to block about 2,000 migrants from entering town in recent days, declaring an emergency and telling residents to close their shops and remain inside their homes.

Some residents claim the caravans have brought an increase in crime. Several confrontations between migrants and government officials in Chiapas, like the attempt to block migrants from entering the town of Huixtla, have also spurred concern.

But as the caravans have led to a certain migrant fatigue along the migrant trail in Chiapas, some residents are beginning to feel an even deeper antipathy toward Mr. López Obrador.

Yet on Friday afternoon, Mexico’s federal police, working alongside immigration officials, detained hundreds of immigrants from Central America who were bathing in a river on the outskirts of Mapastepec, according to local news reports. It remained unclear why that group of migrants had been singled out for enforcement.

The migrants and their advocates say that the Mexican government’s inconsistent migration policies have contributed to the disarray and confusion in southern Mexico.

“The lack of information is driving people to the limit of desperation,” a coalition of human rights and aid organizations said in a statement this week. The group described the situation unfolding in southern Mexico as “a humanitarian crisis.”

The López Obrador administration has been under extraordinary pressure from the Trump administration to stem the flow of migrants heading north. Mr. Trump has threatened to close the southwest border of the United States unless Mexican officials step up their immigration enforcement efforts.

That challenge has tested Mr. Lopez Obrador’s stated goal of presenting a softer, more-welcoming face toward migrants.

He took office in December promising to break from what he called his predecessors’ enforcement-first approach to managing migration. Detentions and deportations by the Mexican authorities plummeted during Mr. Lopez Obrador’s first three months in office, even as the flow of migrants from Central America and elsewhere surged.

The Mexican authorities also appear to be ramping up enforcement efforts under pressure from the Trump administration. Mexican officials have said they are deploying a cordon of security forces across southern Mexico to help control illegal migration.

Kelvin López, 23, a Honduran migrant traveling with his wife and their young son, said the family had fled the violence-plagued city of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, several weeks ago, hoping to get a humanitarian visa in Mexico.

“When we arrived we were told the government was not giving those visas anymore, and so we have decided to move and head north without any permit, risking everything and enduring hunger and insecurity,” he said as he walked along a highway from Huixtla to Mapastepec.

This week, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission criticized the López Obrador administration for taking so long to process migrants’ applications for visas and travel documents, delays that have contributed to overcrowding in government-run migrant shelters.

In Mapastepec, the commission said, government officials told migrants waiting for migration documents last week that they may have to wait as many as six months for their paperwork to be completed, setting off “a violent protest” that was subdued only when the police intervened.

Ramón Alfredo Nolasco, a Honduran migrant, said he thinks migrants “have been fooled” by the government.

“They keep telling us it’s coming tomorrow and the day after, and nothing happens,” said Mr. Nolasco, who has been waiting for a work visa for more than a month. “We just want to get out of here, but they told us we would be detained if we leave.”

The disturbances in the Mapastepec migrant camp have added to a growing wariness among residents here and in other towns in Chiapas that have served as waystations for the caravans in recent months.

“Not all of them are here wanting better opportunities or work,” said Dora Luz García Cruz, a food vendor in Mapastepec. “We are constantly afraid there is going to be a brawl or clashes with the police.”

When municipal officials in Huixtla tried to block about 2,000 migrants from entering the town in recent days, some members of the caravan forced themselves past the police cordon anyway and spent the night in the town center.

“People are just tired of them causing a mess,” said Jonathan Soto, 26, a Huixtla resident.

But many migrants seemed unfazed by the growing public animosity toward them.

Nelson Chirino, a Honduran migrant who was traveling with his 11-year-old son, said he was determined to make it to the United States, even though they had run out of money and were traveling without proper Mexican immigration papers.

”We can’t stop,” he said. “We must push on and never, ever look back.”

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