Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala is notoriously porous. Unlike the U.S.-Mexico border, which is sewed up with a massive fence and guarded by armed border agents, drones, and cameras, Mexico’s southern border is almost imperceptible.
Residents on both sides of the border circumvent the official border crossing by paying a few pesos to get pushed across the slowly flowing Suchiate River on makeshift inner-tube rafts.
Mexicans border residents cross into Guatemala every day to look for deals on fresh fruits and vegetables, while Guatemalans cross into Mexico to buy cases of beer.
The river is also a major transit point for Central American migrants heading north on their way to the United States.
Northbound migrants have transformed southern Chiapas, turning border cities such as Tapachula and Arriaga into migrant rest stops, replete with shelters and small embassy outposts. The flow of Central American migrants has also encouraged some local residents in Chiapas to try their own luck on the journey north. Local residents Jose Antonio Perez and Anulfo Diaz told Fusion they decided to make the trek to the U.S. after seeing so many Central Americans pass through their town on the way north.
For the past two decades, Chiapas State Police Border Patrol has focused its efforts mostly on discouraging drug trafficking — not deterring immigration. Heavily armed border patrol agents stood by as migrants crossed into Mexico on rafts. They didn't ask for passports. It wasn't their job.
But that started to change last year, when the U.S. started to exert more pressure on Mexico to help curb the influx of unaccompanied Central American migrant children arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. Since then, Mexico has worked to tighten up its own southern border — a effort known as Plan Frontera Sur.
Mexico deported more than 105,000 Central Americans in 2014, mostly Hondurans and Guatemalans. During the first two months of 2015, Mexican authorities deported an additional 25,069 Central Americans, according to government statistics.
“The Plan Frontera Sur is clearly one of the main reasons why fewer Central Americans are making it to the United States,” said Adam Isacson, a researcher from the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). “All the plan does is throw up another barrier to migrants. As with past barriers, migrants will simply find new ways around it. They will likely do so by paying even more money to smugglers and corrupt Mexican officials, who in the long term could be Frontera Sur’s big winners.”
Hugo Pimentel, a resident of border town of Arriaga, has noticed the change.
“Four years ago [the migrants] all came on the train. Now there are more controls. Migration authorities go to the hotels to detain people so [migrants] avoid the hotels because they know they’ll get deported,” he said. “It’s more hidden now, but they still pass through. They go in buses or they ride boats in the ocean. You don’t really see them on La Bestia [the train.]”
Migrants and rights activists are not happy about the situation. On April 18, migrant rights activist Padre Alejandro Solalinde led a group of Central American migrants in a march in Mexico City.
Leonel Mendez, a 17-year-old Honduran migrant who participated in the march, summed up the Plan Frontera Sur as "a hunt.”
Despite being detained an deported once before, Mendez made it back to Mexico City and hopes to make it all the way to Houston, Texas to find work.
“Honduras needs security, job opportunities, and [better] schools,” he said, adding that's what pushed him out. “It’s dangerous.”
Until the situation changes in Central America, the immigrants will continue to come — regardless of how many borders they have to sneak across.