With virtual diplomacy and in-person delegations, the Biden administration has announced a deal in which Mexico will bolster its troop deployments on its southern border to ease the mounting mass-migration crisis on the U.S. southern border. The deal’s central component is for Mexico to beef up a Donald Trump-era deployment to 10,000 at some fifty road checkpoints while Guatemala deploys 1,500 at twelve checkpoints.
But recent interviews with immigrants who reached Mexico’s northern border with Texas revealed a variety of methods they have used to handily beat that deployment, especially since Joe Biden did away with Trump-era policies that crucially buttressed the deployment. Following are some of the methods that immigrants here in Acuna and the neighboring Mexican city of Piedras Negras said they used to get around the Mexican troops.
Mexican Policies Canceling Each Other Out; the Mexican “Humanitarian Visa” End-Run
When Honduran citizen Danny Zavala Flores first entered Mexico from Guatemala, he made his way directly to the Tapachula office of the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance (COMAR) and applied for a “humanitarian visa.” The visa authorized him to live and work in Mexico. But Flores knew the visa bestowed a more important gift.
“I just showed it to the soldiers whenever they confronted me, and they just let me go through,” he told me just one hour after U.S. Border Patrol caught and returned him across the Rio Grande under the emergency pandemic expulsion policy known colloquially as “Title 42.” (The Biden administration currently releases the majority of family units that illegally cross, but returns single men and women that Border Patrol apprehends).
The Mexican government apparently routinely issues such visas as well as other travel permission slips that allow foreign nationals, who would otherwise be returned from the roadblocks, to simply flash-pass through.
It’s unclear how many are issued. But other immigrants in Mexico told me they too used the visas to get past them. Haitian citizen Eddyson Mettelis, in Acuna, said a humanitarian visa enabled him to travel to Tijuana, Mexico. He waited there until Biden won and ended Trump policies that would have returned him to Mexico or even Haiti had he been caught.
The Mexican government is issuing other kinds of permission slips besides the humanitarian ones. The Mexican immigration service, INM, on March 10 deemed Dennys Alberto Torrez Gomez a “refugee” in the southern state of Tabasco on the Guatemala border and gave him a permission slip to travel to Piedras Negras on the Texas border. I interviewed him shortly after Border Patrol returned him to Mexico under Title 42.
Gomez said he’ll keep trying, though, knowing his paper will keep the Mexicans off his back until he can get past the Border Patrol on the other side.
The Bribery End-Run
Four immigrants told me they acquiesced to Mexican troop demands for bribes to let them continue north. It usually happened on commercial buses at checkpoints.
Cuban citizen Moefil Poges Silva had just arrived in Acuna from Tapachula, hundreds of miles to the south. He said that once he, his wife, and two children traveled with other Cubans on commercial buses. On three different occasions, national guard soldiers boarded and demanded 1,000 pesos (about $50) per person to continue.
“The soldiers have a communication network going,” alerting one another who was coming on which buses, Silva explained. “They come straight on the bus and say, ‘if you want to advance, you have to pay.’”
Others described the same extortions as they hitched rides in cars and trucks, although some reported a 250-peso price tag.
Whatever the going price, Olbi Orian Dormorel of Honduras said that whenever immigrants came anywhere near the soldiers there were “some who would want to take your money” while others merely neglected their duty. Dormorel described these latter soldiers as “more compassionate. They would give you some snacks and water ... and let you go forward.”
End-Run on the Trains
Five immigrants in Piedras Negras and Acuna said they avoided the national guard by hopping on top of trains that took them into central Mexico.
Juan Farmin of Honduras said he and some other immigrants knew from social media about the national guard problem but also that they could hop freight trains in the small city of Palenque. The soldiers never bothered them.
Ronnie Lopez of Honduras rode the rails past the troops from the Veracruz city of Coatzacoalcos to Tierra Blanca, noting that he chose this method because everyone knows “the military doesn’t stop the trains” and also to avoid paying the bribes on the buses.
Another Honduran immigrant spoke of boarding a train in the southern state of Veracruz, which took them much farther, to Puebla State in central Mexico, well past the “danger” of Mexican troops. From there, they caught commercial buses without any hassle.
End-Run by Foot
Several immigrants avoided paying bribes and riding train rooftops and instead hiked around the checkpoints. They’d collect intelligence from local villagers as to where exactly they were first, then veer off the road, around, and back to the road.
Then they’d simply hike away from the road, work their way past the position by a few hundred yards through trees or brush, and come back to the road beyond the soldiers’ view. Hugo Orlando Castillo of Guatemala said that on nine different occasions he and his group made their way to within eyesight of the roadblock, hike off the road and wait for night.
”We would sneak up to them and then we went around them,” he said. “Any time we’d see a checkpoint, we’d bypass it.”
No smuggler or guide was necessary, although one immigrant said he did hire a local guide to get around the soldiers.
A Flying End-Run
At a popular illegal immigrant landing spot on the Texas side of the Rio Grande, just across from Acuna in the Texas town of Del Rio, a recovered and abandoned airline ticket revealed yet another effective evasion method. It was an AeroMexico ticket showing a flight from the Colombian city of Medellin to Mexico City, well beyond the roadblocks.
While it is difficult to know how often immigrants fly over the military operations, the ticket reveals that they can and that others probably have, too.
The fact that I found this round-trip ticket stub on March 24, the day of the return flight, shows the ticketholders were in Texas that morning stripping off wet clothes instead of on their way back to Medellin.
Useless without the Trump Policies
When Trump was in office, the Mexican troop deployment he demanded also suffered from corruption and ineptitudes. But it was fairly effective anyway because it worked in conjunction with Trump’s push-back policies at the American border. The “Remain in Mexico” Migrant Protection Protocols and assertive ICE repatriations of deportable illegal immigrants by air back to home countries made immigrants feel less inclined to defeat the military roadblocks.
But President Biden eliminated the complementary Trump turn-back policies and began rewarding legal permission to stay to most family units and unaccompanied teenagers, incentivizing them to breach the Mexican cordon. These moves have left the already problematic Mexican military deployment to stand alone against a powerful rising wave of people enthused, determined, and ultimately rewarded for doing so.
Short of reinstitution of deterrence-based policies by the United States, the Mexican operation of which the Biden administration is so proud almost certainly will do nothing new to staunch the inexorable tide of humanity.
Todd Bensman is Senior National Security Fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies.