CIUDAD HIDALGO, Mexico — President Trump approvingly tweeted a chart that showed a sharp decline in the number of migrants apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border last week, celebrating it as “Incredible progress.” But that chart wasn’t produced by his own administration — it was provided to him by the government of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
It was the latest indication that Mexico has oriented its immigration policy entirely around the goal of appeasing Trump. To that end, Mexico has instituted a widespread crackdown on migrants traversing the country from Central America in order to reach the United States.
Signs of the crackdown are everywhere, from National Guard troops lining the once-unguarded border with Guatemala to shelters and flophouses overflowing with migrants stranded after the government refused them transit visas.
The crackdown is the culmination of a long about-face by López Obrador, who campaigned for president last year as a progressive populist and promised to treat migration as a humanitarian concern rather than a military one or a threat to public safety.
Specifically, López Obrador promised not to do the “dirty work” of the United States by stopping migrants in their tracks. But in June, after Trump threatened escalating tariffs on all Mexican goods, the López Obrador administration caved.
And yet López Obrador insists that his policies are coherent with his rhetoric. Asked by VICE News at his daily press conference whether he feared that the crackdown would endanger migrants’ lives, López Obrador said, “No, and that’s not what I want … Make no mistake: We are not oppressors. We're not right-wingers. We don't believe that social problems can be solved by coercive measures.”
“It’s false, it’s a lie, it’s hypocritical,” migrant rights advocate Cristobal Sanchez told VICE News of López Obrador’s rhetoric on migration. “They’re just doing what the U.S. tells them to do, which is regulating migration.”
VICE News went to Mexico to see the results of the country’s migrant crackdown.
This segment originally aired Sept. 5, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.