Mexico, Not Trump, Stopped Caravan of Immigrants Heading to the U.S.

Earlier this week, a caravan of immigrants making its way to the United States border sent President Donald Trump into a frenzy over what he sees as Mexico's inability—nay, refusal—to stop Central Americans from crossing the southern border illegally.

"Mexico is doing very little, if not NOTHING, at stopping people from flowing into Mexico through their Southern Border, and then into the U.S.," Trump tweeted Sunday. "They laugh at our dumb immigration laws."

But Mexico is hardly laughing, experts told Newsweek. Research shows the country is detaining and deporting Central American immigrants in roughly the same numbers as the U.S., and often even surpassing the U.S. What's more, Mexico continues to devote resources to breaking up drug cartels and organized crime, the fear of which drives many immigrants to head north for refuge.

"Mexico has been doing far more to stop Central Americans from crossing the border than we have been doing," Shannon O'Neil, senior fellow for Latin American studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, told Newsweek.

Mexican officials went to lengths to break up the caravan on Tuesday, according to The Washington Post, which reported that immigration officers took a census at an encampment in Oaxaca, asking migrants for papers. Some were granted temporary legal permits requiring them to leave Mexico in 20 days, while others were permitted to apply for Mexican asylum.

On Wednesday, the Mexican Foreign Ministry reported that officials repatriated some 400 caravan migrants, sending them back to their native countries. "Under no circumstance does the government of Mexico promote illegal migration," the foreign ministry told CNN in a statement.

O'Neil said Trump need only look back a few years for evidence of how U.S.–Mexico border security has improved. In 2014, the U.S. wrestled with what to do with the more than 68,000 children who had crossed the southern border, many of them unaccompanied. At the time, politicians and pundits sent truckloads of food, water and toys to the border for the children in attempts to mitigate what President Barack Obama deemed an "urgent humanitarian situation."

Though unaccompanied children and families continue to make risky journeys to the U.S. border, a Mexican crackdown on Central American migrants in 2015 helped to stem the tide dramatically. Since then, illegal border crossings have fallen, with arrests for those crossings hitting a 46-year low.

"We haven't seen anything like that since that time," O'Neil said, referencing the surge of crossings in 2014. "It's not that Central Americans have stopped leaving their countries and trying to come into the U.S.—it's because Mexico has stopped letting them through."

There may be little truth to Trump's claims that Mexico is doing nothing to allay the number of immigrants crossing the southern border. But the president has weaponized the image of a caravan of more than 1,000 immigrants flocking to the U.S. to rouse his base and build his case for increased border security.

"These themes related to migration and border security that he's advanced in the past—the caravan brings many of those together, but this time with a new, salient and highly visible angle," Harold Trinkunas, a senior fellow in the Latin America Initiative at Brookings Institution, told Newsweek. "In terms of a political hook, it's very useful to the president."

By capitalizing on the optics of the caravan—which happens annually as part of Holy Week—Trump also obfuscates the conditions that necessitated it in the first place, experts say. The immigrants who take part in the tradition, some say, only do so because they seek protection from some of the most dangerous countries in the world.

"The biggest flaw in Trump's thinking is that there is nothing illegal or improper about people in fear for their lives asking for protection," Adam Isacson, the director for defense oversight at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), told Newsweek.

"But Trump sees gang members, criminals, people trying to take jobs illegally—to be frank, he sees nonwhite people," Isacson continued. "He's not seeing people fleeing violence."