MONTERREY, Mexico — A campaign by Mexican governors, under pressure by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, to stem the flow of migrants from Central America and beyond to Texas has led to a surge of complaints of abuse by state authorities, including violent attacks, extortion and even forcing migrants to disembark from private buses and continue their journey on foot for miles in temperatures that top 100 degrees.
The allegations of abuse are particularly directed against authorities in the neighboring state of Coahuila, where Gov. Miguel Riquelme and his administration has long led a harsh crackdown against migrants, including targeting migrants on the streets and at hotels of Ciudad Acuña and Piedras Negras, both cities across from Del Rio and Eagle Pass on the Texas border.
But in recent weeks, immigrant rights groups say, the actions of state and local authorities have hit a new low as they sharpened the clampdown against vulnerable migrants.
For instance, authorities are physically removing migrants in trucks. One video shows migrants literally being tossed in a highway. Others are made to walk toward the border on foot, hundreds of miles away.
Moreover, bus stations here and in the bordering state of Coahuila at times do not sell tickets to “foreigners,” an effort to stop migrants from heading to the border. Coahuila also increased the number of checkpoints on the highway to Nuevo Leon and throughout the state on roads that lead to the Texas border.
The actions coincide with the timing of so-called accords signed by Abbott and governors from the four Mexican states that share a 1,200-mile border with Texas. Last April, Abbott, who’s seeking reelection this November, ordered all commercial trucks coming from Mexico to Texas to go through additional “enhanced” inspections.
“Ever since these accords between the governor of Texas and governors in Mexico we have seen a crackdown on migrants, especially in the state of Coahuila, where the governor has invested human and financial resources to stop migrants from reaching” Piedras Negras and Ciudad Acuña, said Alberto Xicotencatl Carrasco, director of Casa de Migrantes en Saltillo, one of several that are making the allegations. “On the one hand, border cities like Piedras Negras and Ciudad Acuña are considered safe for migrants, but getting there has gotten more complicated.”
The allegations of abuse come in the backdrop of a meeting Tuesday between President Joe Biden and his Mexican counterpart, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who appear at odds over issues of migration, the war in Ukraine, energy, among others.
As the two leaders meet, advocates are calling for the U.S. to restore access to asylum at its border and stop pressuring Mexico to crack down on migration. In effect, outsourcing immigration enforcement to Mexico has generated abuse against migrants, said Maureen Meyer, vice president of programs of the Washington Office on Latin America.
WOLA and a group of 87 nonprofit organizations sent a letter Monday to Biden and Lopez Obrador, urging the two administrations to stop their focus on “deterrence policies which clearly isn’t working. What it does is expose people to more dangers, more abuse, extortions, corruption and forces migrants to take more dangerous routes or walk hundreds of miles as we see throughout Mexico, including Coahuila.”
Meyer said the situation in Coahuila is “unique in that this is a very state-funded effort, and unfortunately, done as a response to Gov. Abbott trying to use Mexican governors as a bargaining chip for his own political ambitions in the United States.”
Abbott has made border security and immigration key campaign issues. His move to add truck inspections came along with other efforts aimed at deterring smuggling and illegal crossings, including busing some migrants from the border to Washington.
Far from uncovering any undocumented migrants or illicit drugs, the truck inspections led to delays in deliveries of up to three days, leaving perishables to rot and an already damaged supply chains to worsen. Waco-based researcher Perryman Group estimated Texas suffered $4.2 billion in economic damage.
Lopez Obrador called Abbott’s move “despicable.”
In an effort to save face, Abbott summoned the four Mexican governors who were paraded before the Texas governor at a news conference in April as he sought to secure what he called “historic” border security agreements — which mostly outlined what the states were already doing.
Riquelme was one of those governors, and among the group, he seems to have taken the message more seriously than others.
His office didn’t immediately respond for comment.
Javier Garza, an independent journalist and radio commentator, said Riquelme’s administration is not “doing anything substantially different from what he was already doing for the last three years, when the crackdown began. I think they’re just making their presence more felt, the footprint is bigger and the different operations more visible than they used to be, to stop migrants from reaching Texas.”
Several immigration checkpoints, manned by state authorities, have spread across the country since 2014, as part of a bilateral U.S.-Mexico plan to stop migrants reaching the U.S. southern border. The measures have caused widespread misery but done little to stop asylum seekers and migrants trying to reach the U.S.
A citizens group in Coahuila, through Facebook Live, has been documenting cases of local and state authorities setting up checkpoints. Another Facebook Live video shows what appears to be state and local police putting migrants in the back of pick-up trucks, according to the narrator, and driving them out of town, tossing them out of the truck, like “trash,” “animals,” the narrator says. One woman hits the pavement. The incident happened in Nava, Coahuila, according to the video.
Neither the mayor’s office nor the police chief in Nava returned calls seeking comment.
The video was sent by Xicotencatl, who added his office verified the incident, but said migrants generally do not file charges of abuse because of fear of reprisal. The Dallas Morning News could not independently confirm the incident.
“We documented cases where migrants are told this is not a place to be, or forcibly removed,” Xicotencatl said. “And we don’t know who gives the order — the government or organized crime. There is really little clarity on that front. But there are disproportionate levels of abuse on the part of the state of Coahuila.”
The actions by the state of Coahuila are “illegal” said Mario Lino Garcia, an immigration specialist and director of Clinica Juridica Migratoria (Judicial Migratory Clinic) at the University of Nuevo Leon in Monterrey.
In some ways, it seems like Texas is following the footsteps of Coahuila. Last week, Abbott ordered state police and National Guard soldiers to take unauthorized immigrants they apprehend to the ports of entry, rather than waiting to turn them over to federal Homeland Security officials.
On Friday, following the move by the Texas governor, Lopez Obrador attacked Abbott, saying he would urge voters of Mexican origin in the United States not to vote for “anti-immigrant” candidates.
On the Fox News program “Sunday Morning Futures,” Abbott accused Lopez Obrador of not doing enough to stop migrants from entering Mexico and eventually Texas, and took a shot at his opponent in the gubernatorial election.
“Can you imagine anything worse in the United States of America than Lopez Obrador working with Joe Biden? Working with Beto O’Rourke?” He said such a scenario “would be a disaster, a crushing disaster from which we may never recover.”
As the barbs fly, migrants continue their journey north. A chart by Monterrey’s El Norte newspaper shows the Del Rio sector on the Texas-Coahuila border, second behind the Rio Grande sector in the number of migrant encounters with Customs and Border Protection.
At a migrant shelter here in Monterrey, Francisco Cabrera, 32, was one of a group of migrants picked up by state authorities in Coahuila. He was waiting to hear from his “guide” — a human smuggler — about their next move. He said he is headed to Dallas to work in construction. Going through Coahuila was still the priority, but “the checkpoints and treatment by authorities was harsh,” he said, describing how he walked with entire families for hours under temperatures of over 100 degrees.
“Maybe we’ll climb on a tractor trailer, or find another route,” he said. Asked how worried he is about the dangers ahead, Cabrera responded, “What people don’t understand is that we have no life back home. It’s almost like we’re dead. So we’re risking it all to find life again.”