RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
For days now, President Donald Trump has been deriding American immigration policy and warning about a caravan heading toward the United States. He seems to be referring to a group of about a thousand Central American migrants who've been traveling through Mexico. Many of them are fleeing extreme violence in their home countries. Mexico announced last night that the government there is planning to review the immigration status of this group. We are joined now by NPR's Carrie Kahn reporting from the city of Monterrey, Mexico, this morning. Hey, Carrie.
CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning, Rachel.
MARTIN: What do you know about the Mexican government's plan for these people?
KAHN: Well, they put out a press release last night. This was the foreign and interior ministers, and they said, as you said, that they plan to review the immigration status of the migrants on the caravan, the majority of whom are now stopped in the southern state of Oaxaca. Officials said that anyone found not to be authorized - to be legally in the country or have a legitimate claim to be in the country will be returned home. And they also said that 400 of them have already been deported. And it was unclear when or how that happened. And the press release went on to be very clear to point out that Mexico under no circumstances promotes irregular migration, as they put it. And that appears to be a direct reference to Trump's commentary on their immigration record.
MARTIN: So would this group's status have not been reviewed if President Trump hadn't started lashing out in this way? I mean, is this a direct response to the pressure coming from north of the border?
KAHN: It appears that way, but they are - they say they were reviewed, and this is where they said that 400 people were denied access or were deported at the time.
MARTIN: So President Trump has been lashing out at the Mexican government, saying that it isn't doing enough to curb illegal immigration. Is that true, though? I mean, we should say that even though many of these folks may intend to head towards the U.S., that in general immigration rates over the border have been going down, haven't they?
KAHN: Yes. They are at historic lows. You look at official apprehension rates at the southern U.S. border and they are at very low rates, lower than we've seen in many years. And there could be a lot of reasons for that. And one is that - we know for sure - is that Mexico has been accepting more Central Americans than ever before. Some remain in the country illegally, but a large number, too, are asking and receiving asylum and refugee status in Mexico. And we could say last year, more than 10,000 obtained that refugee asylum protection in Mexico.
MARTIN: How's that ebbed over the years? I mean, has Mexico changed their immigration policy?
KAHN: Yeah, that's greatly increased. And a lot of it was - there was a lot of criticism of the way Mexico was handling - especially if you remember back in 2014, tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors were coming across the border. There was criticism of how Mexico was handling them. They reviewed their asylum and refugee process and have gotten a lot better of asking the right questions and telling people of their rights. And we've seen those numbers skyrocket in Mexico of people - Central Americans that have been asking for that protection and getting it.
MARTIN: So it sounds like Donald Trump's rhetoric has - is actually becoming a motivating element in an election there, right? There's the presidential election in Mexico underway right now. How is - how is Donald Trump playing into this now?
KAHN: Yes, definitely. We're going to have presidential elections here in July 1. And official campaigning is underway, and that's why I'm here in Monterrey, Mexico. I've been following the frontrunner, a populist nationalist, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. And this plays perfectly into his hand. And he's had a lot of good zingers in his stump speech. I heard them yesterday. The best applause lines were those when he was talking about Trump to a large rally here last night. And he was saying things like that when he becomes president, Trump will respect Mexico. Mexico will never, ever, ever, pay for a wall. And his new line that he keeps saying a lot is that Mexico will no longer be the pinata of foreign governments. That got a big applause, too.
MARTIN: Foreign governments - mainly the U.S. government is the subtext.
KAHN: Yeah, that directly referenced to the - President Trump.
MARTIN: NPR's Carrie Kahn from Monterrey, Mexico, for us this morning. Carrie, thanks so much.
KAHN: You're welcome.
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