SAN MARCOS ATESQUILAPAN, Mexico — The teenage brothers were among about 80 young men who had left San Marcos in the past two months, a growing exodus from this impoverished village of 1,600 residents nestled in the lush mountains of the state of Veracruz.
Monday around 11 a.m. Yovani texted his father cheering from the American side of the border: “Dad, now we’re going to San Antonio.”
That was the last their family heard from Jair, 19, and Yovani, 16. Their parents fear, although there is no official confirmation, that their sons were among the 53 migrants found dead Monday afternoon in the back of a tractor-trailer. in San Antonio, suffocated in the scorching heat of the Texas desert.
At least 27 of the deaths in the truck were from Mexico, with the rest from Central America, highlighting a troubling trend. After declining for more than a decade, the number of Mexicans seeking to migrate to the United States is rising. Since 2020, a combination of increasing violence in Mexico and a deteriorating economy has led to the first jump in Mexican migration in a decade.
As a result, Mexico is becoming increasingly challenging in Washington’s attempt to deter migrants from entering the United States across its southern border.
Before Mexico’s numbers began to soar, the country served as a vital buffer against a rapidly growing number of Central Americans — mainly from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — who head north to escape poverty, violence, or both.
Mexico militarized its approach to migration by sending thousands of troops to the southern border to arrest Central Americans, and to the north to coordinate with US border forces.
When the Biden administration took office, its strategy for reducing migration was centered on Central America, providing $4 billion in aid to tackle corruption and improve governance as a way to deter people from leaving.
But the wave of Mexican migrants is putting that strategy to the test. The number of Mexicans detained in the United States increased by 50 percent between 2019 and 2020, from about 170,000 to nearly 255,000. And the figure continues to grow — about 379,000 have been detained so far this year, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
“The numbers make it clear that strategy needs to change,” said Maureen Meyer, vice president of programs at the Washington Office of Latin America, a research organization. “The Biden administration’s perspective of tackling the root causes of migration by focusing on Central America just doesn’t hold up anymore.”
Migration from South America and the Caribbean is also on the rise: the number of migrants from Cuba arriving in the United States has reached levels not seen in four decades.
Meyer said migration should be addressed “as a regional phenomenon and not just a Central American phenomenon”.
A major driver of migration, analysts say, has become the pandemic, which has exacerbated chronic inequality and increased poverty and violence.
Migration from Mexico declined between 2009 and 2019, with more Mexicans leaving the United States than arriving. The decline was attributed to a growing Mexican economy and smaller family sizes.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, Mexico’s economy was hit hard, like many around the world. But critics say the government’s poor management of the economy has left Mexico one of the few major world countries that has not reached prepandemic growth levels.
Inflation hit its 21-year high in April, while growth this year is estimated at 1.8 percent, below expectations. The pandemic has pushed 3.8 million people into poverty and 44 percent of Mexicans are now in need, a 4 percentage point increase since before the public health crisis.
Veracruz, a state of about 8 million people, has let 350,000 residents leave for the United States, according to Carlos Escalante Igual, who oversees migrant issues for the state. According to official figures, more than 60 percent of the municipality to which San Marcos belongs lived in poverty before the pandemic and the economic misery has only increased since then.
The tragedy in San Antonio should be a wake-up call for the United States to create safer migration routes, said Mr. escalating.
“It has to be a turning point, there has to be a before and after of this accident – both for Mexico and for the US,” said Mr Escalante.
Severe labor shortages in the United States will continue to push migrants to make the trip regardless of the risks, said a senior Mexican official dealing with migration and who was not authorized to speak publicly. The need for more workers underscored the need for more temporary worker visas that provide safe routes for migrants, the official added.
Without those routes, migrants must rely on criminal organizations and smugglers to transport them across the border, often in insecure conditions similar to those that led to the mass deaths in San Antonio.
On Thursday evening, as the fog moved into San Marcos, a procession of dozens of people slowly walked out of the yellow-painted walls of the main church, some holding candles, others praying. As the group of mourners approached, it was met by Jair and Yovani Valencia Olivares’ father, who knelt on the road in mournful supplication.
Teofilo Valencia Olivares said his sons had begged for permission to go to the United States, but he was concerned about the trip. Finally, he gave in and agreed to pay for their trip. He took out a loan against the family home to pay the $20,000 smuggling fee.
One of the last text messages he received from Jair, hours before the truckload of bodies was found, was a happy promise.
“We’re going to do everything we can to be with the other guys,” Jair wrote, referring to relatives they planned to reunite with in Austin, Texas, who promised to help them find a job. “To get to work and pay off everything and DO as much as possible.”
With no official confirmation, the family hopes they are one of 14 survivors in hospitals around San Antonio. They check their phone for a message, but still haven’t heard anything.
In Guatemala, the family of 17-year-old Jonny Tziquín is also in agonizing uncertainty. The teen left the small town of Nahualá, in central Guatemala, last month, hoping to reunite with relatives in Los Angeles and work at a restaurant there.
As Jonny prepared to enter Texas on Monday, he wrote a relative’s phone number in Los Angeles on his belt and the bottoms of his shoes, aware of the dangers he might face.
The relative, Rudy Tziquín, eagerly awaited his arrival.
In their last communication, Jonny was optimistic.
“God knows what day” I will arrive, Jonny Rudy wrote in a text message with a laughing halo emoji.
Monday at nearly 11 a.m., as Jonny waited to board a tractor-trailer heading toward San Antonio, he sent Rudy a voice message asking him to pray for him.
Rudy did it. And waited.
Jonny’s shoes with Rudy’s number scribbled on them were found Monday evening among the dead in the back of the tractor-trailer.
His fate, like the others on tractor-trailer, will be repeated without a change in policy, migration experts say.
In the days since the migrants were found in San Antonio, Biden government officials have focused their responses on the need to crack down on people smugglers. President Biden on Tuesday pointed to an anti-smuggling partnership his administration announced with other countries at the Summit of the Americas last month as a possible solution.
“This incident underscores the need to go after the multi-billion dollar criminal smuggling industry that preys on migrants and leads to far too many innocent deaths,” Mr Biden said.
In Texas, the truck driver and another man have been charged by federal prosecutors with the deaths of the migrants.
The likelihood of any movement in Washington on migration measures, such as an increase in the number of temporary worker visas that companies are lobbying for, is slim, as immigration is a hot-button topic that Republicans can use to stoke their base ahead of time. the midterm elections in November, said Ms De Boer. said Meier.
Instead, illegal border crossings are fueling one business boom: organized crime networks in Mexico. A growing portion of drug cartels’ revenue now comes from smuggling migrants.
“Organized crime is benefiting so much from the arrival of these migrants,” said Ms Meyer. “And it’s partly because the US made that possible.”
Maria Abi-Habib reported from Mexico City. Oscar López reported from San Marcos, Mexico. Zolan Kanno-Youngs contributed from Washington, Jody Garcia from Miami and Joan Suazo from Tegucigalpa, Honduras.