The number of migrants detained along the Mexico border jumped 40 percent in June, defying a Trump administration emergency crackdown that has cited the coronavirus pandemic to swiftly “expel” those who cross illegally, according to enforcement statistics released Thursday by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
U.S. authorities made 32,512 arrests and detentions along the Mexico border in June, up from 23,142 in May. The June total was nearly double the number of detentions recorded in April, after the Trump administration suspended normal immigration proceedings to quickly process most migrants and return them to Mexico in a matter of hours.
CBP figures show the vast majority of those detained in June — 89 percent — were promptly turned back to Mexico using the rapid-expulsion system that is facing a legal challenge from rights groups and immigrant advocates. The administration has defended the expulsions as a necessary measure to keep detention cells along the border empty and avoid the risk of spreading infection.
Though the June enforcement numbers remain far below the levels tallied during last year’s migration crisis, the sharp month-over-month increase appears to be a sign that the deterrent effects of Trump’s crackdown are wearing off.
The president has been campaigning for reelection on his immigration record and the steep decline in irregular migration since last year, when border authorities made nearly 1 million arrests.
CBP released its June enforcement statistics just one day after the president stood in the Rose Garden with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and praised his cooperation on immigration enforcement.
“We’ve been helped greatly by Mexico on creating record numbers in a positive sense on our southern border,” Trump said, without specifying what records he was referring to. “It’s been really very, very tight.”
Because the CBP figures are a tally of monthly enforcement actions by U.S. agents, not the arrests of distinct individuals, it is unclear to what extent the June increase could be driven by border crossers making repeat attempts to enter the United States.
The emergency enforcement measures CBP rolled out in late March allow U.S. agents to process unlawful border crossers in outdoor areas and quickly send them back into Mexico, rather than holding them in custody to initiate formal deportations or charge them with a crime.
Mexico has cooperated with Trump by agreeing to accept Central American returnees in addition to its own citizens. The measures are controversial because they have essentially shut the door on the ability of asylum seekers to seek safe refuge in the United States, while also waiving off anti-trafficking laws preventing the rapid deportation of underage migrants who arrive without a parent.
The American Civil Liberties Union and other immigrant advocacy groups filed a legal challenge last month to the expulsion system, which the Trump administration has put in place indefinitely.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials have been anxious about the possibility of a new migration surge as a result of deteriorating economic conditions in Mexico and Central America. Mexico is facing its worse economic crisis in a century as a result of the pandemic, and the country has reported coronavirus positivity rates of nearly 50 percent in recent weeks, an indication of widespread community transmission.
The U.S.-Mexico border region is a major hot spot for the virus. Three of the U.S. states with the worst outbreaks — Texas, Arizona and California — are border states.
Last month’s arrest totals, while higher than May’s, were about one-third of the 104,311 detentions CBP tallied during the same period a year ago, near the peak of the Central American migration crisis.
“The numbers are still quite low when put in recent historical perspective, but they have clearly gone up from the very low numbers early in the pandemic,” said Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute in Washington. “It probably suggests that there are many more people faced with difficult economic circumstances in Mexico during the global recession who are willing to try and see if they can get into the United States, but Central Americans are still not crossing in large numbers, probably because of Mexican enforcement measures.”
“While the number of encounters last month are not a surprise, this increase is still extremely concerning as we continue to battle the invisible enemy: COVID-19,” Morgan said. “Therefore, it is imperative that we continue to build the border wall system and enforce CDC policies aimed at protecting the health of Americans.”
Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, who Trump singled out for praise during the appearance with López Obrador, played down the significance of the increase. “The real story is we have stopped catch & release & are protecting Americans during a public health crisis by returning almost 90% of illegal aliens encountered at the (Mexico border) to their home countries, most within 120 minutes,” Wolf tweeted, referring to The Washington Post’s article.
“Catch and release” is the term Trump administration officials have used to describe the practice of apprehending migrants and releasing them into the interior of the United States while immigration courts process their cases.
The border barrier’s impact on reducing illegal crossings is not always clear. In CBP San Diego’s sector, for instance, where progress on new border barrier construction is the most advanced, arrest totals through June were nearly the same as last year’s, the latest CBP figures show, despite the overall border-wide decline.
Most of those taken into custody last month were single adults from Mexico, Morgan noted in his statement, in contrast to last year’s influx, when record numbers of families and children from Central America streamed across the border to surrender to U.S. agents and request humanitarian protection.
The Trump administration has ordered a sweeping overhaul of U.S. asylum rules since then, and this week it announced new measures that would deny entry to anyone from a country with an outbreak of a communicable disease.
With more than 3 million confirmed infections and at least 130,000 deaths, the United States has the world’s worst coronavirus outbreak, and hundreds of deportees sent to Central America and elsewhere have tested positive for the virus.
Americas|Mexico City Police Chief Is Wounded in Brazen Ambush
Gunmen wounded Mexico City’s chief of police on Friday, and killed two of his bodyguards and a bystander, in a brazen ambush on his vehicle as it traveled through a wealthy neighborhood that is home to ambassadors and business leaders.
The police chief, Omar García Harfuch, tweeted hours after the shooting that the powerful Jalisco New Generation Cartel was to blame. Mr. García Harfuch, who said he had been shot three times, was recovering in a Mexico City hospital. A dozen people were arrested following the shooting.
The dawn attack further punctured Mexico City’s image within the country as an oasis largely shielded from the gruesome violence that has gripped other parts of Mexico.
If investigators can prove a cartel staged Friday’s attack as an assassination attempt, it would signal a new front in the battle between security forces and organized crime. It would also offer further evidence of the government’s inability to curb the criminal groups that wield vast influence over large swaths of Mexico, security experts said.
“This is a dramatic breach of what would be considered one of the most guarded, safest zones of the city,” said Vanda Felbab-Brown, an expert on organized crime at the Brookings Institution. “It’s a massive tactical lapse to allow a government official of this importance to end up with three bullets in him.”
Mexico City has become more dangerous over the past decade, with a rise in murders, kidnappings and extortion. But while gangs in the city have gained strength, they are much less powerful than the cartels that control the drug trade and operate largely outside the capital.
“If the group involved is in fact the Jalisco cartel, it is a sign that they are willing to enter into a direct confrontation with the state,” said Alejandro Hope, a security analyst in Mexico City, who noted that this would be the first assassination attempt against such a high-ranking security official in Mexico City.
Since taking the helm of the city’s police force last year, Mr. García Harfuch has led a more aggressive crackdown on organized crime and has examined collusion between law enforcement officers and criminal groups.
Claudia Sheinbaum, the mayor of Mexico City, said at a news conference that the government was on “alert,” monitoring the rise in violence and enlisting the national guard to support the local police force. The mayor said she has not received any death threats.
Mexico’s security minister, Alfonso Durazo Montaño, told reporters that three other government officials did face threats, though he would not offer details. He said there was no immediate indication that the attackers had inside knowledge of Mr. García Harfuch’s travel route on Friday.
This is the second high-profile attack on a public official in Mexico this month. Last week, Uriel Villegas Ortiz, a federal judge, was shot to death at his home in the state of Colima. His wife, Verónica Barajas, also died in the attack.
Mr. Durazo Montaño confirmed on Friday that “a preliminary hypothesis” suggests that the New Generation Jalisco Cartel was involved in the shooting of the judge and his wife.
While protesters in the United States mourn George Floyd, police brutality is also a concern south of the border in Mexico.
Mexicans protested against police brutality in the second-largest city, Guadalajara, accusing the police officers who arrested a construction worker of beating him to death.
The government’s human rights minister has condemned the use of excessive force.
But police deny that.
Al Jazeera’s Laura Burdon-Manley has more.
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Yet his approach to government spending — even in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout — might best be compared to that of conservative icons Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.
López Obrador has eliminated entire government departments, slashed the salaries of officials and cancelled year-end bonuses. Those cost-cutting measures come on top of steep cuts enacted early on in his administration that targeted everything from the country’s Olympic training program to public hospitals.
At the same time, López Obrador has rejected bailouts, tax breaks and debt relief, making Mexico the only large country in the Western Hemisphere that has not announced an economic stimulus package to counter the economic fallout from the pandemic.
“We have to seek austerity and consume only what we need,” he said at a news conference Wednesday in which he urged Mexicans to save their money. “If we already have shoes, why buy more?”
Economists across the ideological spectrum warn that austerity amid the crisis is pushing the nation toward disaster.
The economy is expected to shrink by at least 7% this year — hammered by a lethal combination of plunging oil prices, less demand for manufactured goods, fewer remittances and the collapse of the tourism industry.
In March and April alone, Mexico lost more than 700,000 jobs in the formal economy. The Inter-American Development Bank predicts that by year’s end another 2 million people may be out of work.
The National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy predicts the crisis could push as many as 10.7 million people — about 8.5% of the population — into extreme poverty, defined as having a monthly income of less than $67 in cities or $60 in rural areas.
Catholic leaders recently urged the president to redirect money from some of his pet infrastructure projects — including construction of an $8-billion oil refinery — to give cash payments to families, warning that in a country with no unemployment insurance, many were already going hungry.
Some of the president’s own policymakers have pushed for stimulus measures. Gerardo Esquivel, a leftist academic who was nominated by López Obrador to the board of the central bank, has called for new spending programs that would give checks to those without work and tax breaks to small businesses.
Virtually all economists agree that governments should run a budget deficit in times of recession, Finance Minister Arturo Herrera Gutiérrez wrote in a policy document late last year.
López Obrador has held firm.
Though he campaigned on a promise to help lift the poor out poverty, he also vowed to drastically cut government spending, waste and corruption.
Much of his popular appeal is derived from the austerity he practices in his own life. He has shunned the presidential palace in favor of a modest apartment in the building where he works and flies only on commercial airlines — and always in coach.
López Obrador also appears to be guided by haunting memories of past economic disasters, including the government bailout of banks after the 1994 currency crash, in which taxpayers were stuck covering bad loans given to friends and family members of bank executives.
“His entire political career he has spoken out against this,” said Genaro Lozano, a political scientist at the Iberoamerican University in Mexico City. “One of the reasons he got to the presidency had to do with the fact that people were very angry about the use of public money for frivolities.”
Instead of passing economic stimulus measures, López Obrador is taking what he considers a more direct approach to solving the financial crisis: pushing to reopen the economy.
On Wednesday, nearly two months after he ordered a halt to all nonessential commerce, he said businesses and schools in hundreds of counties where coronavirus infections have not been reported can reopen beginning May 18, with the rest of the economy gradually restarting on June 1.
He also said he had given the green light for three key industries to resume next week — construction, mining and the manufacture of cars and auto parts. “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” López Obrador said.
Later in the day, Deputy Health Secretary Hugo López-Gatell said the auto, construction and mining industries in fact would not be allowed to reopen until June 1.
News of factories reopening was welcomed by many U.S. businesses that rely on cross-border trade and have been lobbying to lift restrictions, said Michael Camuñez, president of the consulting firm Monarch Global Strategies and a former assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
The economies of Mexico, Canada and the United States have become ever-more integrated, yet each country has issued its own guidelines about which businesses could continue operating and which had to shut down.
“That’s created a lot of heartburn on both sides of the border,” Camuñez said.
But others worry that Mexico is moving too fast, increasing the risk for another wave of contagion.
The governor of Puebla state, which is home to a large Volkswagen factory and dozens of parts manufacturers that supply it, criticized the decision by federal officials, saying it will erase hard-earned gains after weeks of social distancing.
“They’re going to ruin everything,” said Gov. Miguel Barbosa, who is a member of López Obrador’s Morena party. “And we are talking about this happening in the middle of the most critical moment of the pandemic.”
On Tuesday, Mexico logged 353 new coronavirus deaths — its highest single-day toll — and by Wednesday it had confirmed a total of 4,220 deaths. Authorities say the true number of deaths is almost certainly higher because relatively few COIVD-19 tests have been conducted.
As of late April, Mexico had performed just 0.4 tests for every 1,000 residents, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. That’s the lowest rate among the organization’s 37 countries and about 1/40th the rate in the United States.
“Considering the underreporting … returning to normal activities in two or three weeks seems impossible,” political analyst Ezra Shabot wrote on Twitter. Others cited recent outbreaks in factories along the northern border where some work deemed essential has continued.
Jose Carlos Moreno-Brid, an economist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said the pressure to lift restrictions is especially high because just 20% of Mexican workers do jobs that can be performed at home.
“We have to reopen the economy at some point,” he said. “But I’m not sure now is the moment.”
Moreno-Brid voted for López Obrador in 2018, moved by his overtures to the poor and his promise to fight corruption. But he said he has lost faith in the president, in part because of his stubborn refusal to increase spending.
“The key lesson of the Great Depression was that governments should not follow austerity during difficult times,” he said. “All austerity does is prolong a recession.
“His discourse is excellent,” Moreno-Brid said of the president. “But his actual course is disastrous.”
Cecilia Sánchez in The Times’ Mexico City bureau contributed to this report.
GALLUP, N.M. — All the roads into this city on the edge of the Navajo Nation are closed. The soldiers at the checkpoints have their orders: Outsiders must turn around and drive away.
Cities across the country have closed down businesses and ordered residents to remain at home, but the threat of the coronavirus in Gallup became so serious last week that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham invoked the state’s Riot Control Act to lock down the entire city. The downtown of shops, bars and Indian trading posts is now nearly deserted.
“We’re scared to death, so this had to be done,” said Amber Nez, 27, a shoe store saleswoman and Navajo Nation citizen who lives in Gallup and is pregnant with her fourth child. “I only wonder why we didn’t do this sooner.”
The lockdown comes as state and local authorities grapple with one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the United States on the nearby Navajo Nation, the country’s largest Indian reservation, and a surge in detected cases in places near the reservation.
As of Sunday, the Navajo Nation had reported a total of 2,373 cases and 73 confirmed deaths from the virus. With a rate of 46 deaths per 100,000 people, the tribal nation has a higher coronavirus death rate than every state in the country except New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
While Gallup is not within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation, the city of 22,000 serves as a regional hub for the Navajo and other nearby Native American pueblos. Many citizens of various tribal nations regularly drive into Gallup to buy food and other goods.
The refusal to follow social distancing guidelines by some residents of Gallup and other so-called border towns near the reservation has emerged as a source of tension, as tribal authorities say the behavior is undermining their attempts to control the virus.
The Gallup area had the third-highest rate of infection of any metropolitan area in the United States as of Sunday. Only the areas around New York City and Marion, Ohio, the site of a large prison cluster, had higher rates.
McKinley County, which includes Gallup, now accounts for about 30 percent of all confirmed coronavirus cases in New Mexico, surpassing counties in the state with much larger populations.
In addition to shutting down all roads into Gallup, including the exits off the interstate highway, the lockdown order directs the essential businesses that are still operating to close from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. Nonessential businesses remain entirely closed in Gallup, as they are in other parts of New Mexico.
The order also prohibits residents from leaving their homes except for emergency or essential outings, and allows only two people in vehicles at a time.
Soldiers from the New Mexico National Guard were stationed at some of the checkpoints into Gallup on Sunday. Dusty Francisco, a spokesman for the New Mexico State Police, said the agency had sent 32 officers to assist.
Mayor Louis Bonaguidi, who requested the lockdown, said he understood that the ask was unusual. “However, the Covid-19 outbreak in the city of Gallup is a crisis of the highest order,” Mr. Bonaguidi said. “Immediate action is necessary.”
Mr. Bonaguidi on Sunday requested an extension of the lockdown and the governor said she would sign an order on Monday extending the measure until Thursday at noon.
Jonathan Nez, president of the Navajo Nation, said he fully supported the lockdown order. “We have many members of the Navajo Nation that reside in Gallup and many that travel in the area, and their health and safety is always our top priority,” Mr. Nez said.
Before the lockdown, tribal leaders complained that their attempts to curb infections on the reservation by setting curfews and creating checkpoints were being undermined when Navajo citizens ventured into Gallup.
Residents of Gallup also groused that many people were ignoring social distancing guidelines by crowding into vehicles and food stores.
The riot control law invoked by the governor allows police to issue misdemeanor citations for first-time violators. Repeat offenders could face felony charges.
Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokeswoman for Ms. Lujan Grisham, said that the governor’s legal advisers were not aware of the riot law being used before in the state.
But state officials said they were responding to building concern about the potential for the virus to devastate Native American peoples. While New Mexico has largely succeeded in limiting the overall spread of the virus around much of the state, the transmission levels among Native Americans remain alarming.
Native Americans account for 53 percent of New Mexico’s confirmed coronavirus cases, while making up about 11 percent of the state’s population. Epidemiologists list several contributing factors, including multiple generations living in single households on reservations and a shortage of running water, making basic hygiene difficult.
The fight to curb the spread of the virus in Gallup comes at a time of anger over the Trump administration’s failure to distribute the billions of dollars in coronavirus relief allocated to tribes in the $2.2 trillion stimulus package.
Tribes including the Navajo Nation are suing the Treasury Department over its decision to allow for-profit native corporations in Alaska, in which Native Alaskans hold shares, to access the federal relief. The suit argues that the decision effectively diminishes the pool of money available to tribes in their fight against the virus.
While the tribes spar with the federal government, Gallup stands in contrast to some towns in New Mexico where elected officials are adopting defiant positions against social distancing measures.
In the nearby town of Grants, also located near tribal nations in western New Mexico, the mayor openly defied Ms. Lujan Grisham last week by telling businesses to reopen. (The state Supreme Court has ordered the mayor, Martin Hicks, to obey the state orders.)
Mr. Hicks has asserted that Navajos were to blame for spreading the virus, openly expressing an unsubstantiated position that seems to be gaining traction in towns near Native American reservations.
“We didn’t take it to them, they brought it to us,” Mr. Hicks said in a telephone interview, without offering any proof. “So how are we going to spread it amongst them when they’re the ones that brought it to us?”
Meanwhile, some in Gallup are fretting over the potential for increased transmission across the state line as businesses in nearby Arizona prepare to reopen.
Linda Alonzo, the postmaster, said that the lockdown was “absolutely needed.”
“You’d go into Walmart, the parking lot was full, people weren’t doing much distancing,” said Ms. Alonzo, who emphasized that she had not left her home since the lockdown began.
“We needed something extreme,” she said, “and this was it.”
Mitch Smith in Overland Park, Kan., and Alex Schwartz in Sarasota, Fla., contributed reporting.