Mex­ico gave mi­grant car­a­van a warm wel­come, but this wasn’t al­ways the case

The News & Observer (Sunday) - - Obituaries - BY ELIS­A­BETH MALKIN

The car­a­van of Cen­tral Amer­i­cans that has been mak­ing its way from Hon­duras to­ward the United States border moved on from Mex­ico City in the predawn chill of Satur­day, as mi­grants strapped on back­packs and hoisted sleep­ing chil­dren into their arms to be­gin the next leg of their jour­ney.

For much of the past week, the gi­ant cap­i­tal, which prides it­self on be­ing a sanc­tu­ary for refugees, turned an ath­letic sta­dium into a camp for some 5,000 mi­grants and of­fered them ev­ery type of city ser­vice.

Ever since the car­a­van crossed into Mex­ico three weeks ago, the coun­try has faced a reck­on­ing over the way it treats Cen­tral Amer­i­can mi­grants. Con­tra­dic­tory im­pulses are in play.

In Mex­ico City this week, doc­tors and den­tists were on hand for free check­ups, and chil­dren spent the morn­ings draw­ing and color­ing.

It wasn’t al­ways this way. For decades, suc­ces­sive ad­min­is­tra­tions used strong en­force­ment mea­sures to con­trol Mex­ico’s borders. The mi­grants tried to travel out of the sight of au­thor­i­ties.

Now, Mex­ico City’s em­brace of the car­a­van has thrown an op­pos­ing idea into sharp re­lief, an ac­knowl­edg­ment that the coun­try’s asy­lum laws re­quire the gov­ern­ment to pro­tect mi­grants, who are vul­ner­a­ble to gangs.

The mi­grants ar­rived in a Mex­ico hang­ing in po­lit­i­cal limbo. The out­go­ing gov­ern­ment of En­rique Peña Ni­eto is set to hand over power Dec. 1 to a new left­ist gov­ern­ment. For years, since the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, Peña Ni­eto’s gov­ern­ment had been act­ing as a ju­nior part­ner of the U.S. in block­ing the mi­grants’ pas­sage north.

Pres­i­dent-elect An­drés Manuel López Obrador has pledged to grant tem­po­rary work visas to Cen­tral Amer­i­can mi­grants, declar­ing that no­body should be forced to mi­grate, and seems un­likely to stand in the way of those who choose to test their luck by trav­el­ing to the U.S. border.

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