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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press Passengers disembark Wednesday from a raft in Tecun Uman, Guatemala, after crossing the Suchiate River from Mexico. Illegal crossings are common for work and shopping in the area.

Friday, June 14, 2019 1:00 am

Town used to illegal crossings

Residents feel smugglers aided by deal with US

Associated Press

FRONTERA HIDALGO, Mexico – It was still dark when the first Guatemalan farm worker walked ashore in Mexico early one morning, just the bottoms of his shorts damp from the shallow ford of the Suchiate River.

As the sky brightened, another man drove a big tractor across the muddy waters to Guatemala with a sprayer on the back. A short time later a man and a boy crossed astride a horse, followed by a man carrying his sandals and pants to keep them dry.

Such scenes are part of daily life in the Mexican border town of Frontera Hidalgo, where it's not just migrants crossing the river but also locals for whom the border is essentially a cartographers' construct to be ignored when it's time to work or shop.

Mexico announced recently that it is sending 6,000 agents of its new, still-forming, militarized police force known as the National Guard to its southern region for immigration enforcement as part of a deal with Washington to avoid President Donald Trump's threatened tariffs on Mexican imports.

But those who live here predict that won't stop the surge in mostly Central American migrants crossing over the notoriously porous border on their way toward the U.S., though it could force them into the hands of smugglers and to more dangerous crossing points while altering a way of life that has carried on as long as anyone can remember.

The Suchiate cuts a winding north-south course en route to the Pacific Ocean here, the westernmost part of Mexico's 697-mile southern frontier with Guatemala and Belize. Interior Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero said this week there are at least 300 known points that are hotspots for illegal crossings, as well as 12 official ports of entry.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said this week that as part of the deal with Washington, Mexico needs to show results in reducing the migrant flow within 45 days.

In Frontera Hidalgo, most Guatemalans crossing the river come to buy food and other goods then wade back. Locals worry businesses could suffer if authorities scare people off.

Migrants cross here, too, though not in large numbers. Those who do then walk through town to the highway, sometimes stopping to ask for food or money for transportation.

“The human traffickers are going to increase a lot,” Mexican farmer Galindo Merida predicted. “Because if it's closed here, (they will) go over there or over there.”

There isn't more migrant traffic in Frontera Hidalgo in part because not far downriver, it costs just $1.30 to cross from Tecun Uman, Guatemala, to Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, on rudimentary rafts. Made of large inner tubes lashed together with a wood plank deck, they go back and forth all day.