Since Republican Donald Trump won the presidential election, there has been a sharp uptick in the number of people fleeing to the U.S. in hopes of entering the country before the real estate mogul is sworn in on Jan.20, officials from Central American countries said Thursday.
So far this year, U.S. authorities have detained at least 410,000 people entering the country illegally on the southwest border with Mexico. Most detainees came from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Officials said the number of people heading north has surged since Trump’s victory.
“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,” Honduras’ Deputy Foreign Minister Maria Andrea Matamoros told Reuters. The "coyotes" Matamoros referred to are people smugglers.
Guatemala’s Foreign Minister Carlos Raul Morales said: “The coyotes are leaving people in debt, and taking their property as payment for the journey.”
Trump, during his campaign, promised mass deportations of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. and promised to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. However, after his win, Trump said his administration would first deport all undocumented immigrants who had a criminal record, an estimated 2 million or 3 million people.
To cope with the surge in the number of people entering the country illegally post Trump’s victory, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection opened a new temporary holding facility last week near the Texas-Mexico border.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Wednesday that immigration detention facilities, which usually hold about 31,000 – 34,000 people, are now packed with 41,000.
“Recently, we have seen an increase in the numbers of those apprehended on the southern border. I have instructed our border security and immigration enforcement personnel to take steps to keep pace with this increase,” Johnson reportedly said.
The foreign ministers of Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala met Monday to discuss a strategy to protect their migrants in the U.S. At the meeting, Mexico was asked to create a migrant protection network and collaborate with U.S. authorities. The countries also agreed to hold regular talks.
Last week, Mexico issued orders to its embassies and consulates in the U.S. to step up its protection of immigrants following the real estate mogul’s victory. Mexico’s Foreign Secretary Claudia Ruiz Massieu in an online video introduced new measures, including a 24-hour hotline for people to report harassment and potential immigration raids.
“These are uncertain times,” Massieu said. “The government of President Enrique Peña Nieto and all Mexicans are with you. We are going to be closer than ever.”