Mexico freezes bank accounts in widening migration clampdown

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - The Mexican Finance Ministry said on Thursday it blocked the bank accounts of 26 people for their alleged involvement in human trafficking, as Mexico broadens its migration clampdown under intense pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump.

The ministry’s Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) said in a statement it froze the accounts due to “probable links with human trafficking and illegal aid to migrant caravans.”

The FIU added that it would present the cases to the Attorney General’s office.

The United States is looking for Mexico to target people-smuggling organizations as part of a package of actions on immigration to stave off punitive tariffs threatened by Trump.

The move comes a day after the government sent soldiers and armed police to block a large group of migrants crossing into Mexico from Guatemala, detaining at least 350, and arrested two prominent migrant rights activists in Mexico City.

The government’s crackdown on different aspects of migration coincides with meetings this week between Mexican and U.S. officials in Washington to thrash out a deal to avoid the tariffs kicking in on Monday.

Trump last week said Mexico must take a harder line on migrants or face 5% tariffs on all its exports to the United States from June 10, rising to as much as 25% later this year.

Mexico’s Ministry of Finance and Public Credit said it mapped financial transactions of people along a route traveled by “migrant caravans” since October 2018.

“A group of people were identified who, in the period of migrant caravans, made unusual operations from Chiapas and Queretaro to different countries, including some considered risky jurisdictions by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF),” the statement said.

Since April 2018, Trump has lashed out at caravans of Central Americans wending their way to the United States, raising their profile for migrants while blaming Mexico for failing to stop their movement to the U.S. border.

The caravans are groups of hundreds of mainly Central Americans, many fleeing poverty and violence, who travel together for protection on a 2,000-mile trail otherwise ridden with criminals and corrupt officials who prey on lone travelers through kidnapping, extortion and other forms of assault.

Reporting by Anthony Esposito; Writing by Delphine Schrank; Editing by David Alire Garcia and Alistair Bell