Washington- Politicians – supported by opinion polls – believe that Donald Trump was elected as a result of his promises to adopt tougher immigration policies.
But in reality, large numbers of migrants have fled homes in Central America since Trump’s surprise election win, hoping to reach the United States before he takes office next year.
Trump won the Nov. 8 vote by taking a hard line on immigration, threatening to deport millions of people living illegally in the United States and to erect a wall along the Mexican border.
Trump’s tough campaign rhetoric sent tremors through the slums of Central America and the close-knit migrant communities in U.S. cities, with many choosing to fast-forward their plans and migrate north before Trump takes office on Jan. 20.
During fiscal year 2016, the United States detained nearly 410,000 people along the southwest border with Mexico, up about a quarter from the previous year. The vast majority hail from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.
Since Trump’s victory, the number of people flocking north has surged, Central American officials say, contributing to a growing logjam along the southern U.S. border.
“We’re worried because we’re seeing a rise in the flow of migrants leaving the country, who have been urged to leave by coyotes telling them that they have to reach the United States before Trump takes office,” Maria Andrea Matamoros, Honduras’ deputy foreign minister, told Reuters, referring to people smugglers.
Carlos Raul Morales, Guatemala’s foreign minister, told Reuters people were also leaving Guatemala en masse before Trump becomes president.
“The coyotes are leaving people in debt, and taking their property as payment for the journey,” he said in an interview.
Last week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection opened a temporary holding facility for up to 500 people near the Texan border with Mexico, in what it said was a response to a marked uptick in illegal border crossings.
During the campaign, Trump set out plans to impound billions of dollars of remittances so Mexico ends up paying for his proposed wall on the southern U.S. border. It remains unclear if he will stick to the proposal.
Humberto Roque Villanueva, Mexico’s deputy interior minister for migration, told Reuters the day after the U.S. election that Mexico stands ready to lobby the U.S. Congress and use all legal means against Trump’s plan for blocking remittances.
The foreign ministers of Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala met on Monday to formulate a strategy to protect their migrants in the United States, in a show of regional solidarity.
At the meeting in Guatemala City, the foreign ministers asked Mexico for help to create a migrant protection network, liaise for coordination with U.S. authorities, and to meet regularly for regional talks.
During their last presidential debate ahead of the elections, Hillary Clinton said: “I don’t want to see the deportation force that Donald has talked about in action in our country.”
“I think it’s an idea that would rip our country apart,” she added.