Mexico vows crack down on human traffickers, aims to finish border guard reinforcement

Migrants and locals cross the Suchiate river on a raft from Tecun Uman, in Guatemala, to Ciudad Hidalgo, as seen from Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, on June 9, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

MEXICO CITY - Mexico will fully deploy National Guard forces on its southern border with Guatemala this week and vowed to crack down on human traffickers after nearly 800 people were found in transport containers headed for the US border, officials said on Monday (June 17).

Under a deal signed 10 days ago with Washington, Mexico has promised to send 6,000 National Guard members to control the flow of migrants into the country from Central America. The deal gave Mexico 45 days to palpably cut the number of migrants travelling through its territory to the United States.

If US President DonaldTrump is unsatisfied with results at the end of the period, he has said he will renew plans to put punitive tariffs on Mexican goods. The move could batter Mexico's economy, as the United States is the country's main trade partner.

"The deployment of the National Guard will be completed this week, with support from the Ministry of Defense and the Navy,"Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said at a news conference.

Mexican police found 785 foreign nationals, many of them children, crammed into eight containers pulled by four trucks in the eastern state of Veracruz on Saturday.

Ebrard said each of the travellers had paid US$3,500 (S$4,797) or US$5,000 in their country of origin to be transported through Mexico, toward the United States.

"We are calling this a rescue because the containers were not designed for human transport. These people could have died of asphyxiation," Ebrard said, adding that the transportation companies involved in the incident will face charges.

"We could be looking at one of the biggest human trafficking markets in the world," he said. "It will not be tolerated." Trump has made reducing illegal immigration one of his signature policy pledges as he heads into his campaign to be re-elected next year.

Most of those caught attempting to enter the United States are fleeing poverty and violence in the troubled Central American nations of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

The National Guard deployment on the Guatemalan border has been patchy so far. A Reuters reporter near the border this weekend saw a handful of officials wearing National Guard insignia and spoke to other security personnel who said they were part of the guard.

The United States has meanwhile doubled the number of asylum seekers it sends back each day to Mexico from El Paso, Texas, a Mexican immigration official said on Friday.

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