The Mexican government rerouted funds meant for Central American development projects into immigration enforcement, after the Trump administration threatened the country with tariffs if regional migration did not decrease, according to a report by The Associated Press.
The report, based on public records requests, showed that President Andrés Manuel López Obrador rerouted more than $4 million from the Mexico Fund to improvements to detention centers and programs to bus migrants back south.
López Obrador, who won the presidency in 2018, campaigned on an inclusive vision for migrants and Central American neighbors.
The Mexico Fund — officially known as the Infrastructure Fund for Mesoamerican and Caribbean Countries — was conceived in 2011 as a way to deter Central American migration by addressing its root causes.
But shortly after López Obrador took office, President TrumpDonald TrumpMedia giants side with Bannon on request to release Jan. 6 documents Cheney warns of consequences for Trump in dealings with Jan. 6 committee Jan. 6 panel recommends contempt charges for Trump DOJ official MORE threatened to impose tariffs on all Mexican goods crossing the U.S.-Mexico border if the flow of migrants from Central America was not reduced.
López Obrador at the time ordered his newly created National Guard to focus on enforcing immigration laws, and according to the report, pivoted the Mexico Fund from regional development to detention and repatriation.
The drastic change in mission was “a recomposition of the immigration vision completely oriented toward containment that leaves us without tools and resources to design development strategies, which had been the government’s objective,” former National Migration Institute Commissioner Tonatiuh Guillén told the AP.
Guillén was replaced as Mexico's immigration chief by Francisco Garduño Yáñez, a López Obrador ally with expertise in prison management.
Collaboration with U.S. authorities on novel border management programs, like Migrant Protection Protocols, or "remain in Mexico," also has led to growth of refugee camps in northern Mexican cities, as Central Americans are made to wait out their U.S. asylum cases in Mexico.
The COVID-19 pandemic aggravated conditions, as the United States effectively suspended its asylum program, and fear of contagion spread through the camps.
Conditions in those camps and uncertainty about asylum case processing have in turn led many Central Americans to turn back rather than wait in squalid conditions.
“They’re inviting people to self-deport,” Maureen Meyer, vice president and Mexico director for the Washington Office on Latin America, told the AP.
In September 2019 and April 2020, the Mexican government tapped $700,000 of the fund's resources for its busing program, according to the report.
Since its foundation, the Mexico Fund has disbursed more than $150 million in programs to 11 countries.
The López Obrador administration in 2019 designated $62 million for programs in Honduras and El Salvador, according to the report, but it's unclear if any of that has been disbursed.
The fund was targeted for elimination in May, as López Obrador's policy of belt-tightening has hit a multitude of government programs, particularly those that predate his administration.
Ending the fund's programs could take years, but officials told the AP "there's no money left."