Mexico vows crackdown on human smugglers, aims to finish border guard reinforcement

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico will fully deploy National Guard forces on its southern border with Guatemala this week and will crack down on human smugglers after nearly 800 people were found in transport containers headed for the U.S. border, officials said on Monday.

FILE PHOTO - Mexico's Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard speaks during a session with senators and lawmakers at the Senate building in Mexico City, Mexico June 14, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

Under a deal signed 10 days ago with Washington, Mexico has promised to send 6,000 National Guard members to control the flow of migrants into the country from Central America. The deal gave Mexico 45 days to palpably cut the number of migrants traveling through its territory to the United States.

If U.S. President Donald Trump is unsatisfied with results at the end of the period, he has said he will renew plans to put punitive tariffs on Mexican goods. The move could batter Mexico’s economy, as the United States is its main trade partner. Trump, a Republican, has made reducing illegal immigration one of the main policies of his presidency.

“The deployment of the National Guard will be completed this week, with support from the Ministry of Defense and the Navy,” Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said at a news conference.

Mexican police found 785 foreign nationals, many of them children, crammed into eight containers pulled by four trucks in the eastern state of Veracruz on Saturday.

Ebrard said each of the travelers had paid $3,500 or $5,000 in their country of origin to be transported through Mexico, toward the United States.

“We are calling this a rescue because the containers were not designed for human transport. These people could have died of asphyxiation,” Ebrard said, adding that the transportation companies involved in the incident will face charges.

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Mexico is home to one of the biggest human smuggling markets in the world, he said. “It will not be tolerated.”

Most of those caught attempting to enter the United States from Mexico are fleeing poverty and rampant gang violence in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Some say it would be better to stay in Mexico than return home if Trump clamps down further on migration into the United States.

Trump’s administration announced plans on Monday to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the three countries, after he complained that their governments were not doing enough to curb immigration.

U.S. Lawmakers who oppose the plan said it was cruel to cut aid to countries grappling with hunger and crime, and that the move would more likely increase the number of migrants seeking safety in the north than decrease it.

Reporting by Hugh Bronstein, Dave Graham; editing by Bill Trott and Grant McCool