Inside The Crackdown To Stop Migrants, Before They Reach U.S. Border
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
And now to the other refugee and migrant crisis, the one that reporter and advocate Sonia Nazario says is at our door. She's talking about the millions of migrants who are fleeing violence in Central America. There was a surge of these migrants and refugees into the U.S. last summer. Many of them were unaccompanied minors. As Nazario writes in the Sunday Review section of The New York Times, these people are now being stopped in Mexico before they even reach the U.S. border. And, she says, the U.S. government is indirectly paying tens of millions of dollars to make this happen. Nazario joins me here in our studios in Culver City, Calif. Welcome, and thanks for coming.
SONIA NAZARIO: Lovely to be with you, Kelly.
MCEVERS: And first, let's talk about the fact that the U.S. government is funding, basically, this crackdown in Mexico of migrants and refugees coming from Central America before they even reach the U.S. How does this funding work?
NAZARIO: Well, when there was this humanitarian crisis about 15 months ago, President Obama decided that he had to make this problem go away. And so the State Department allocated about $86 million - not all of that has been spent for fiscal 2015 - to give to Mexico to turn these migrants, including these children, back. And it has been a ferocious crackdown and has resulted in Mexico deporting many more Central Americans now for the first time than the United States.
MCEVERS: Is this money, though, that is earmarked specifically for that or it's earmarked for, you know, drug interdiction and other programs in Mexico and ends up going that way?
NAZARIO: It's State Department money that is for drug interdiction, but it has been earmarked to control migrants along the southern border of Mexico.
MCEVERS: Have you spoken to U.S. officials about this policy?
NAZARIO: I have not.
MCEVERS: OK. But you have reported on this a lot, and you were just back in Mexico reporting on it again. How did you see that this new program to catch and deport people before they reach the U.S. has changed their migration patterns?
NAZARIO: Well, it's made it much more dangerous because migrants who couldn't afford $10,000 for a smuggler from Central America would go by grabbing onto the tops of freight trains up the length of Mexico. The authorities have kept migrants off the trains. They've built walls and barriers.
And so instead of riding the trains, migrants are going in these very isolated places, and they are walking the length of Mexico to try to get north. And it's open season on migrants not only by the authorities, but by delinquents and kidnappers. And so it's lead to all sorts of new and heightened dangers.
MCEVERS: And you were able to spend time in a shelter along this route. What did you see there?
NAZARIO: Well, in this shelter in Oaxaca in Southern Mexico just 250 miles inside Mexico, it used to be a spot where people came - and they were just passing through one or two days - get some food; get some rest; move on. But now, it's become a de facto refugee camp, a place where they come, and they stay hoping to get asylum, hoping to get a humanitarian visa. They will stay for months and longer in the prayer that they will get one of these things that will help them travel more safely through Mexico.
MCEVERS: But what's the likelihood that they will get asylum or a humanitarian visa?
NAZARIO: Incredibly low because Mexico makes it very, very difficult to apply for asylum. They discourage you. And your odds of getting it are 20 percent compared to 50 percent in the United States - very, very difficult.
MCEVERS: Were you able to bring these concerns to Mexican authorities?
NAZARIO: No, I wasn't. I was simply reporting on what I saw.
MCEVERS: So what do you think American readers should take away from the piece that you wrote?
NAZARIO: I think that we expect Europe to step up and do the right thing when it comes to people who are fleeing for their lives, which is very different from an economic migrant who's coming to this country because they want a better life. I draw a clear distinction. We cannot take every economic migrant on earth. But if you are a person running for your life, we need to step up and do the right thing. Now is one of those times.
MCEVERS: Sonia Nazario is a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist who wrote the book "Enrique's Journey." She also serves on the board of an organization that provides pro bono legal help to unaccompanied minors in the U.S. Thank you so much for coming in today.
NAZARIO: Thank you so much for having me.
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