Threatened by Trump, exhausted by caravans, Mexico struggles with migrant surge

MAPASTEPEC, Mexico — When a huge caravan of migrants reached this southern Mexican town in the fall, neighbors poured into the streets to help. A band played marimba music, nurses offered free medical assistance, and townspeople served up chicken tamales and pasta to the beleaguered Central Americans as a swarm of journalists looked on.

But six months and several caravans later, much of that welcome has dried up. Most media have left. And the people of Mapastepec, and other places that have been overwhelmed, are showing their fatigue with the growing stream of migrants.

“People . . . previously opened their doors to these migrants, but they do not have much extra money here,” said Roberto Sarabia, 56, who works at a small grocery store. “What little they could give, they’ve already given.”

To the irritation of President Trump, Mexico has largely accommodated the migrant caravans that have traversed the country over the past year — and become a symbol of irregular migration. But the government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is facing increasing pressure to crack down, both from the U.S. government and migrant-weary Mexicans.

That pressure has exposed deep ambivalence in Mexico. López Obrador, a center-left politician who took office in December, is a champion of Mexican migrants in the United States. Like many Mexicans, he has expressed sympathy for the Central American families — many of them asylum seekers — who now make up most of the migrants attempting to cross the U.S. border. He has promised more effort to integrate them into Mexican society and is seeking to launch projects to give them jobs in their own countries.

But that desire to accommodate migrants might be beginning to change. López Obrador has cut the budgets for Mexico’s federal migration agency and asylum program to focus on other priorities, even as the number of migrants has spiked in recent months. Worried by the growing traffic, security officials are considering a plan to effectively bottle up many migrants in the southern part of the country.

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