In the days leading up to U.S. President Joe Biden’s inauguration, the Suchiate River – which runs along the Mexico-Guatemala border and is known for migrant crossings - was unusually quiet.
The likely explanation lay hundreds of miles to the south, where baton-wielding Guatemalan security forces deployed tear gas and beat back one of the largest U.S.-bound migrant caravans ever assembled, according to a Reuters photographer and other witnesses. Some migrants threw rocks. Guatemalan immigration authorities reported an unspecified number of injuries.
Angie Osorio had come from Honduras: "They should put their hands on their hearts. The children are not at fault, what are they doing wrong? We have fled many things that are happening, so it is not fair that we are treated like this, like dogs, like animals. It should not be."
The operation was part of a U.S.-led effort, pursued by past administrations and accelerated under former President Donald Trump, to pressure Mexican and Central American governments to halt migration well short of the U.S. border.
Under the Biden administration, the same general strategy is likely to continue, at least for the near term, according to six U.S. and Mexican sources.
While Biden has been gradually unraveling many Trump-era immigration policies, the new administration has encouraged Mexico and Guatemala to keep up border enforcement, according to two Mexican officials and a U.S official.
Diplomats and immigration experts told Reuters that any migrant rush to the U.S border could hand Biden’s political opponents ammunition to sink the rest of his immigration agenda, which includes providing a pathway to citizenship for immigrants already in the U.S. and reducing asylum application backlogs.
The Biden administration has not specifically endorsed militarized action, however, and has vowed to treat migrants with dignity.
Mexican immigration expert Tonatiuh Guillén: “There is a reopening, there is a reform in progress. The expectation is that the most important immigration reform in decades will make progress in the United States.”
Immigration experts and people familiar with the Biden administration’s thinking say Washington may try to exercise more oversight down the line over how Mexican and Central American authorities conduct border containment operations.
But Biden officials have repeatedly pleaded with asylum seekers not to migrate now, stressing that the administration needs time to enact its domestic immigration changes.