SAN DIEGO, July 11 (UPI) -- Mexico is being credited for helping to reduce Central American migration to the United States through efforts by its newly formed National Guard. But human rights advocates worry the Guard's existence creates more fear for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Mexico.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador formed the National Guard to fight crime and violence, but those plans changed after threats from U.S. President Donald Trump in early June to implement an escalating tariff on imports from Mexico unless it did more to stop migrants from reaching the U.S. border.
As a result of that pressure, thousands of National Guard troops quickly were deployed throughout Mexico's border regions. A total of 15,000 soldiers were designated for the northern border between the United States and Mexico and more than 6,000 for Mexico's southern border.
Those efforts appear to have helped reduce the flow of migrants passing through Mexico into the United States. The Pew Research Center reported that Mexican authorities arrested nearly 92,000 migrants in the first seven months of fiscal 2019, up 32 percent from the same period the previous year.
On Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security announced a 28 percent drop in apprehensions along the border and cited help from Mexico, with U.S. arrests falling to 104,344 in June from 144,278 in May.
"Since the administration reached a new agreement with Mexico, we've seen a substantial increase in the number of interdictions on the Mexican southern border," the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement.
The crackdown in Mexico has become evident. On a recent night along the beach in Tijuana, where a border wall separates the United States and Mexico, longtime human rights activist Hugo Castro of Border Angels in Baja, Calif., spotted members of the National Guard on patrol, looking for migrants.
During the day, the location is a popular spot for beach-goers, but it also is a popular spot for migrants who sometimes attempt to cross the border there.
In a video posted on Facebook, Castro confronts some of the soldiers, telling them he believes they are unnecessarily focusing their attention on rounding up migrants instead of using their time to protect the country from organized crime, kidnappings, assaults and drugs.
"They are prioritizing the deportations of people who are victims of forced migration. They're not criminals, but they are criminalizing innocent people," Castro said in response to the government's efforts to crack down on migrants trying to pass through Mexico.
This week, Luis Raul Gonzalez, president of the National Human Rights Commission, called during a speech before Mexico's National Council of Public Security for clarity on the protocols for detaining people who don't have legal status.
In Tijuana last week, several leaders from migrant shelters also raised concerns about reports from different parts of the country about the presence of National Guard troops, particularly attempts by them or those from the National Migration Institute, a government agency, to enter migrant shelters.
Tijuana Archbishop Rafael Moreno Barron called for caution by the government intervening in the shelters.
"If it is done, it will have to be in agreement with the directors. It is delicate. It is people under protection in the shelters. The directors have a lot of experience, and the presence of the National Guard requires great care," the archbishop said in a report from Mexican news site Uniradio Noticias.
In March, the Mexican government also said it would cut back on the number of humanitarian visas, thereby limiting migrant movement in the country. Around that same time, Trump threatened to close the border with Mexico as another way to push the country to increase efforts to curb the flow of migrants trying to get into the United States.
Funding from the Mexican government for migrant shelters also was cut earlier this year. Shelters along the border inside Mexico are reported to be at capacity, with many poor migrants trying to find somewhere to stay.
In another effort, the United States continues to send Central Americans back to Mexico to wait for asylum hearings.
Starting on Jan. 29, and except for a temporary suspension, the United States has returned 18,503 Central Americans who sought asylum to Mexico. The Migrant Protection Protocols, implemented by the Trump administration, and often called the Remain in Mexico program, has put the onus on Mexico to handle migrant needs.
Trump, for now, seems pleased with efforts to reduce the number of migrants crossing the border and to return migrants to Mexico.
"The numbers are going down because Mexico is doing a lot," he told reporters over the weekend.