U.S. agents at Guatemala checkpoints see holes in border security

U.S. agents at Guatemala checkpoints see holes in border security
By Sofia Menchu

EL PROGRESO, Guatemala (Reuters) – At a highway checkpoint in central Guatemala, 10 U.S. officers in caps and sunglasses and packing concealed weapons watched as local border agents flagged down vehicles, inspected documents and prepared to fingerprint any undocumented migrants.

On a recent visit, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agents observed from a few feet as Guatemalans stopped all vehicles carrying more than five people.

The U.S. training mission for Guatemalan security forces, which includes instruction in using biometric devices, stems from the first of two accords aimed at making the Central American country halt flows of asylum-seekers heading north.

“The operations are being carried out at strategic points,” said Keneth Morales, a Guatemalan agent. “We have detected migratory flows and illegal traffic.”

However, U.S. agents taking part in the program told Reuters they found shortcomings in their counterparts from the country’s Division of Ports, Airports and Border Posts (Dipafront).

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the agents said many of the Guatemalan officials were unaware of their own immigration laws or lacked basic knowledge about detention techniques, weapons handling and interrogation of undocumented immigrants.

At another checkpoint in Chiquimula, near the border with El Salvador, “people ask us if we are from the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) … nobody has explained to them what we are doing here,” said one U.S. official.

The training program aims to instruct an expected 200 Guatemalan police in performing stricter border checks for suspected people-smugglers and in handling detentions and repatriations.

TRAINING MISSION

U.S. agents are also training police and anti-narcotics agents in first aid, among other courses.

The U.S. Department Of Homeland Security did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the U.S. trainers’ observations.

Rights groups have argued in recent months that Guatemala, and its neighbors El Salvador and Honduras do not have the institutional capacity to carry out enforcement and asylum work demanded by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump.

The May security deal, which is initially for two years, was followed by a July agreement to take in more asylum seekers. Honduras and El Salvador later struck similar asylum accords.

The three troubled countries send the highest number of migrants north seeking asylum in the United States, according to data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Enforcement. Asylum applications at the U.S.-Mexico border reached a decade-long high in 2018, according to U.S. government data.

Under U.S. supervision, Dipafront officers have installed checkpoints along roads that were last year traveled by thousands of Central American migrants in caravans.

Trump repeatedly lashed out at the caravans and earlier this year, the U.S. government cut aid to Central America after he said the region needed to do more to stop citizens leaving.

Pablo Castillo, a spokesman for Guatemala’s national police, said the agents’ comments presented a “false impression” of Guatemalan officers and put down the U.S. interpretation to differences in procedures and training methods between the two countries.

Still, Castillo conceded that Guatemala could improve the scope of its weapons training and better equip the police.

Luis Enrique Arevalo, Guatemala’s deputy security minister, also pushed back against the criticism, saying officers received thorough training at the national police college.

“No national police leave the academy without being able to handle techniques of arrest and firearms well,” he told Reuters.

(Reporting by Sofia Menchu; additional reporting and writing by Delphine Schrank; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Migrant deaths rise among Venezuelans, Central Americans: U.N.

FILE PHOTO: The U.S.-Mexico border is seen near Lukeville, Pima County, Arizona, U.S., September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – At least 380 Latin American migrants have died on their journeys this year, many of them Venezuelans drowning in the Caribbean or Central Americans perishing while trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, the U.N. migration agency said on Tuesday.

The toll, 50 percent more than the 241 recorded as of mid-June 2018, also coincides with tightened security along the U.S. southern border, which often leads migrants to turn to underground criminal smugglers and take riskier routes, it said.

President Donald Trump has made reducing illegal migration one of his signature policy pledges. His administration on Monday cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, after Trump blasted the three Central American countries because thousands of their citizens had sought asylum at the U.S. border with Mexico.

“This month has been marked by several tragedies on the U.S.-Mexico border, where at least 23 people have died since May 30 May, that is more than one per day,” spokesman Joel Millman of the International Organization for Migration told a briefing.

IOM figures show that so far, 144 migrants are known to have died in Mexico, 143 in the Caribbean, 66 along Mexico’s southern border with Central America and 27 in South America.

A further 42 reported deaths were under investigation in Mexico, and of several dozen more refugees and migrants crossing the Darien jungle in Panama, he added.

“So we are seeing a level of fatality that we haven’t seen before. We caution that with the summer months just beginning, with the intense heat that brings, we can expect it to get worse,” Millman said.

Four million Venezuelans have fled their homeland, most of them since an economic and humanitarian crisis began in 2015, the U.N. refugee agency says. Most went overland to Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Brazil.

But in images reminiscent of desperate Cubans fleeing their homeland in decades past, Venezuelans increasingly are taking to the sea in rickety boats.

The overall toll includes more than 80 Venezuelans who have died or disappeared in three shipwrecks in the Caribbean in the past two months, Millman said.

UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch called for better search and rescue operations to save Venezuelans fleeing via the Caribbean.

“As Venezuelans continue to use dangerous sea routes to leave their country, the U.N. refugee agency is calling for more coordinated search and rescue efforts to prevent further loss of life,” Baloch said.”It is also absolutely vital that people are able to access safe territory in ways that do not require them to risk their lives,” he said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Mexico says it will finish National Guard roll-out to stem migration this week

FILE PHOTO - Mexico's Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard speaks during a session with senators and lawmakers at the Senate building in Mexico City, Mexico June 14, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico will complete deployment of National Guard forces on its southern border with Guatemala this week as part of a new immigration control plan agreed with Washington, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard’said on Monday.

“The deployment of the National Guard ordered, with support from the Ministry of Defense and the Navy, will be completed this week,” Ebrard said at a news conference.

Mexico is stepping up efforts to cut the flow of mostly Central American migrants toward the U.S. border under pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump, who vowed to hit Mexican goods with tariffs if it did not increase immigration control efforts.

Mexico made a deal on June 7 with the United States to avert the tariffs, setting the clock ticking on a 45-day period for the Mexican government to make palpable progress in reducing the numbers of people trying to cross the U.S. border illegally.

Mexico has pledged to send 6,000 National Guard members along its border with Guatemala under the deal.

That deployment has been patchy so far. A Reuters reporter near the border this weekend saw a handful of officials wearing National Guard insignia and spoke to other security personnel who said they were part of the guard.

There has been a jump in apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border this year, angering Trump, who has made reducing illegal immigration one of his signature policy pledges as he heads into his campaign to win a second four-year term in November 2020.

Most of those caught attempting to enter the United States are people fleeing poverty and violence in the troubled Central American nations of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

(Reporting by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Dave Graham and Bill Trott)

Migrants rush to enter Mexico ahead of security crackdown demanded by Trump

Migrants from Central America cross the Rio Bravo river to enter illegally into the United States to turn themselves in to request for asylum in El Paso, Texas, U.S., as seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico June 11, 2019. Picture taken June 11, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

By Hugh Bronstein

CIUDAD HIDALGO, Mexico (Reuters) – Central American migrants eager to beat a crackdown by Mexico on its southern border with Guatemala scrambled into the country on Thursday as the government prepared to send thousands of National Guard members to plug gaps in the porous frontier.

Mexico has agreed with the United States to demonstrate by late July that it can contain a surge in U.S.-bound migrants, following a threat from U.S. President Donald Trump to impose tariffs on Mexican goods if it failed to do so.

Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said this week that Mexico would beef up control of its southern border, including sending 6,000 members of the National Guard. The deployment was due to begin on Wednesday though witnesses saw no signs of the deployment.

Migrants from Central America run towards the Rio Bravo river to cross and enter illegally into the United States to turn themselves in to request for asylum in El Paso, Texas, U.S., as seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico June 12, 2019. Picture taken June 12, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

Migrants from Central America run towards the Rio Bravo river to cross and enter illegally into the United States to turn themselves in to request for asylum in El Paso, Texas, U.S., as seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico June 12, 2019. Picture taken June 12, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

As dawn broke on Thursday, a family of Honduran migrants floated across a narrow crossing of the Suchiate River from Guatemala on a raft and staggered onto Mexican soil.

“They told us that they were deploying the National Guard,” said Melvin Ochoa, 28, carrying his 20-month-old daughter. Beside him was his heavily pregnant wife. “It made us hurry. I’m pushing to continue faster so they won’t catch us.”

The trip was especially risky for Ochoa’s wife who was only one month shy of giving birth. She declined to give her name.

“But the risks at home were worse,” Ochoa said, explaining that the family had fled loan sharks affiliated with a criminal gang who demanded money even after they had paid them back.

“If not, they were going to kill us.”

Behind them, the steady daily traffic of the river continued unabated, with no Mexican official in sight. Migration officials remained in the shadow of immigration posts on a bridge linking the two countries.

Improvised rafts made of planks of wood floating on giant inner-tubes carried black-market Corona beer, coffee and other contraband toward Guatemala. Half a dozen more floated toward Mexico crowded with Central Americans fleeing gang violence and poverty.

It was business at usual too at immigration checkpoints along the highway north.

“We haven’t seen any increase,” said a police officer at a checkpoint, when asked about any build-up in security forces. He asked not to be identified because he lacked permission to speak to the press.

Mexico and the United States brokered an immigration agreement last week to prevent Washington from imposing tariffs starting at 5% on Mexican goods. The Mexican government has agreed to consider changing its migration laws after 45 days if it proves unable to stem the flow of people.

The standoff over the border has piled pressure on Mexico’s leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. He has called for national unity, describing the tariff threat as unfair, but vowing to avoid confrontation with the United States, Mexico’s largest trading partner.

Threatening to raise tariffs on Mexican imports as high as 25%, Trump wants Mexico to accept asylum seekers as part of his effort to slow the flow of migrants and to relieve pressure on stretched U.S. border and immigration authorities.

Mexico in December agreed to start taking in mostly Central American asylum seekers while their cases are being heard in the United States and absorbed about 10,000 during the first few months of this year, according to the Mexican government.

However, under the deal struck last week, tens of thousands could be sent back to Mexico before the end of this year, putting increased pressure on Mexican migration authorities, said Deputy Interior Minister Alejandro Encinas.

“This has become a national problem,” he told Reuters.

‘AS FAR AS GOD PERMITS’

Mexico sends around 80% of its exports to the United States so any move by Trump to impose levies on its goods would have serious repercussions for the economy, which is already struggling after contracting in the first quarter.

Given that the United States had never managed to properly seal its own southern border, the chance of Mexico doing any better were extremely remote, said Andres Rozental, a former Mexican deputy foreign minister responsible for North America.

“We’re never going to be able to get what presumably Mr. Trump wants in 45 days,” Rozental told Reuters.

Complicating the deployment of the militarized police force along the border is the fact that the National Guard was only formally created a few weeks ago, and Lopez Obrador’s six-month-old administration is still finding its feet.

For some migrants, those issues are of small consequence.

“We have no plan. Only to go forward, as far as God permits,” said Antonio Hernandez, 29, stepping off another raft at dawn with his wife and 2-year-old son. Anxious and exhausted from days of travel since they fled El Salvador, they hustled on.

 

(Reporting by Hugh Bronstein; Additional reporting and writing by Dave Graham and Delphine Schrank in Mexico City; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Cynthia Osterman)

Mexico says presidential plane sale to help fund migration plan

Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador attends a news conference at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico June 10, 2019. REUTERS/Gustavo Graf

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Wednesday the sale of the former presidential jet and other aircraft from the last government would help fund efforts to curb migration under a deal struck last week with Washington.

The agreement reached on Friday averted escalating import tariffs of 5% on Mexican goods, which U.S. President Donald Trump had vowed to impose unless Mexico did more to contain migration via Central America to the United States.

In return, Mexico has agreed to toughen up its migration controls, including deploying its National Guard security force to its southern border with Guatemala.

“About how much this plan is going to cost, let me say, we have the budget,” Lopez Obrador said at his regular daily news conference. “It would come out of what we’re going to receive from the sale of the luxurious presidential plane.”

Lopez Obrador said the price tag of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner used by his predecessor Enrique Pena Nieto would start at $150 million, citing a United Nations evaluation. The plane has been on sale for several months.

As soon as he took office in December, the leftist announced plans to sell the plane, whose spacious interior includes a bedroom and is emblazoned with official government seals on the walls and flat-screen monitors.

The jet was acquired in late 2012 for $218 million. It is on sale along with 60 government planes and 70 helicopters.

Lopez Obrador has shunned the often luxurious trappings of Mexico’s wealthy elites, choosing to fly coach.

He has also rolled out a string of welfare programs for the poor and the elderly, cut salaries for top civil servants and says he is saving public money by eliminating corruption.

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon, editing by Hugh Bronstein and Susan Thomas)

Mexico to ramp up southern border infrastructure to tackle migration

FILE PHOTO: Mexico's Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard speaks during a news conference at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico June 10, 2019. REUTERS/Gustavo Graf

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico must significantly improve border infrastructure on its southern frontier with Guatemala to make a success of a deal struck last week with the United States to reduce migration, Mexico’s foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Tuesday.

Speaking at a regular government news conference, Ebrard said not enough priority had been given to Mexico’s southern border in the past and that the state needs to have a stronger presence across the frontier to deal with migrant flows.

Mexico and the United States signed an agreement on Friday, with Mexico agreeing to take steps to control the flow of people from Central America, including deploying 6,000 members of a new national guard across its border with Guatemala.

The deal averted escalating import tariffs of 5% on Mexican goods, which U.S. President Donald Trump had vowed to impose unless Mexico did more to curb migration.

Still, Mexico’s government said on Monday it had 45 days to show its measures were yielding results.

Taking questions alongside President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Ebrard said Mexico was accelerating deployment of the national guard along the border with Guatemala and that migrants entering Mexico would all have to register with authorities.

To meet its commitments to Washington, Mexican migration facilities in the south need to be revamped, Ebrard added.

“There must be a different presence of the Mexican state in the south,” he told reporters, noting that the infrastructure along the southern frontier with Guatemala had for years been neglected while Mexico’s northern border was being modernized.

“You go to the south and the first thing you ask yourself is ‘right, where’s the border?’ There’s nothing. The idea is to make the south like the north as far as possible.”

Ebrard said there would need to be provisional installations built before rolling out a broader plan to cope with the flow of migrants arriving from Central America. “Because the reality is that a very big effort needs to be made,” he said.

(Reporting by Dave Graham; Editing by Hugh Bronstein and Susan Thomas)

Mexico meets migrants at southern border with armed forces

Migrants gesture while arguing with a federal police officer during a joint operation by the Mexican government to stop a caravan of Central American migrants on their way to the U.S., at Metapa de Dominguez, in Chiapas state, Mexico June 5, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Torres

By Delphine Schrank

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican soldiers, armed police and migration officials blocked hundreds of migrants after they crossed the border from Guatemala in a caravan into southern Mexico on Wednesday, and detained dozens of them, a witness from a migrant aid group and an official said.

The Mexican response in the border town of Metapa, which included dozens of soldiers, marked a toughening of the government’s efforts to curb the flow of mainly Central American migrants, said Salva Cruz, a coordinator with Fray Matias de Cordova.

Migrants from Central America walk on a highway during their journey towards the United States, in Ciudad Hidalgo, Chiapas state, Mexico, June 5, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Torres

Migrants from Central America walk on a highway during their journey towards the United States, in Ciudad Hidalgo, Chiapas state, Mexico, June 5, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Torres

“That many sailors and military police, yes, it’s new,” Cruz said, by WhatsApp, from Metapa, in the southern border state of Chiapas, where the vast majority of migrants from Central America cross into Mexico. Many are asylum seekers fleeing violence and poverty in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

The operation in Chiapas coincided with a meeting of Mexican and U.S. officials at the White House on Wednesday to thrash out a deal that would avoid blanket tariffs on Mexico threatened by U.S. President Donald Trump last week.

Trump announced the tariffs in retaliation for what he called Mexico’s failure to stop Central American migrants from reaching the U.S. border.

Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM) said in a statement that a group of about 300 people entered Mexico by a border bridge Wednesday morning, and another 120 people joined the group as they walked to the city of Tapachula.

The migrants later agreed to be taken by bus to a migration office to be processed, the INM said.

U.S. border officers apprehended more than 132,000 people crossing from Mexico in May, a third more than in April and the highest monthly level since 2006, reaching what U.S. officials said on Wednesday were “crisis” levels.

An INM official in Mexico City who was unauthorized to talk to the media said, on condition of anonymity, that the migrants were being asked to show their status in Mexico.

Migration officials detained 350 to 400 people, the official said, noting that federal police and agents from the National Guard were present. Mexico’s government recently created a militarized police force called the National Guard made up of soldiers and federal police.

On Wednesday afternoon in Mexico City, police detained Irineo Mujica, director of the U.S.-Mexico migrant aid group Pueblo Sin Fronteras, and Cristobal Sanchez, a migrant rights activist, according to Alex Mensing, a coordinator with the group.

Pueblo Sin Fronteras has for several years guided annual caravans through Mexico, seeking to protect migrants and to advocate for their rights along a 2,000-mile trail ridden with criminals and corrupt officials who prey on lone travelers through kidnapping, extortion and other forms of assault.

Since April 2018 Trump has lashed out at the caravans of Central Americans wending their way to the United States, while blaming Mexico for failing to stop their movement to the U.S. border.

(Reporting by Delphine Schrank, Lizbeth Diaz and Diego Ore; Editing by Richard Changand Leslie Adler)

Mexico prepares for arrival of next Central American migrant caravan

FILE PHOTO: Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America trying to reach the United States, leave a temporary shelter voluntarily, which is to be closed by Mexican authorities for sanitary reasons, in Tijuana Mexico January 5, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes

By Diego Oré

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican authorities will meet with Central American officials to prepare for the arrival of a planned new caravan of migrants headed to the United States next week.

The head of Mexico’s immigration office, Tonatiuh Guillen, left on Wednesday on a trip to El Salvador and Honduras to meet with his counterparts and other authorities, said Interior Ministry spokesman Hector Gandini.

Mexico hopes to discourage a mass exodus from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, and wants Central Americans who decide to migrate north to do so in an orderly way and through legal ports of entry.

“The doors to Mexico are open to anyone who wants to enter in an orderly fashion,” Gandini told Reuters in a telephone interview. “But whoever wants to come in illegally will be deported.”

Previous Central American caravans became a flashpoint in the debate over U.S. immigration policy.

That was intensified by the recent deaths of two migrant children in American custody and a partial U.S. government shutdown over U.S. President Donald Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion in funding for a wall along the border with Mexico.

There are 12 legal ports of entry for Central Americans on Mexico’s southern border, but Mexican authorities have identified an additional 370 illegal points of entry on that frontier, Interior Minister Olga Sanchez said this week.

Mexico borders in the south with Guatemala and Belize.

The illegal entry points will be “monitored and controlled to avoid undocumented access of people to our territory,” Sanchez said.

Guatemala’s deputy foreign minister, Pablo Cesar Garcia, met with Mexican authorities on Tuesday to discuss the caravan and to “provide all the necessary support to the migrants,” said Guatemalan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marta Larra.

“In Honduras, they kill us,” read an appeal circulating on social media for people to assemble in the violent Honduran city of San Pedro Sula next Tuesday to start the long trek north to the United States.

While other social media posts invite people to leave from nearby Santa Barbara on Jan. 20, U.S. authorities hoped to dissuade Central Americans from making the journey.

“The risks of illegal immigration are serious. Don’t waste your time and money on a trip destined to fail. The road is long and very dangerous. Thousands of Hondurans who participated in the caravan came back sorry,” Heide Fulton, the U.S chargé d’affaires to Honduras, said on Twitter on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Diego Ore; Additional reporting by Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa, Sofia Menchu in Guatemala City, Nelson Renteria in San Salvador and Lizbeth Diaz in Tijuana, Mexico; Writing by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Bereaved Guatemalan mother recalls hopes son would ease U.S. entry

Catarina Perez (C), grandmother of Felipe Gomez Alonzo, a 8-year-old boy detained alongside his father for illegally entering the U.S., who fell ill and died in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), gestures at an altar in memory of Felipe at the family's home in the village of Yalambojoch, Guatemala December 27, 2018. REUTERS/Luis Echeverria

By Sofia Menchu

YALAMBOJOCH, Guatemala (Reuters) – Between heavy sobs, Catarina Alonzo explained that when her husband left Guatemala to try to reach the United States, they hoped taking their 8-year-old son would make it easier for the pair to get in. Instead, the boy fell ill and died.

Detained on the U.S. border, Felipe Gomez Alonzo died late on Christmas Eve in a New Mexico hospital a few weeks after setting off with his father, becoming the second Guatemalan child to die this month while in U.S. custody.

The two deaths have led to increased criticism of the Trump administration’s hardline stance on illegal immigration, as well as fresh scrutiny of why some migrants from Central America travel with children on the long, dangerous road north.

Speaking at her home in a mountainous region of western Guatemala, Catarina Alonzo said neighbors had told the family that taking a child would provide her husband with a way in.

“Lots of them have gone with children and managed to cross, even if they’re held for a month or two. But they always manage to get across easily,” she told Reuters in an interview.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has yet to give an official cause of death for the boy, prompting Democratic lawmakers to intensify calls for an investigation.

The Department of Homeland Security, which says that Felipe Gomez Alonzo and 7-year-old Jakelin Caal, who died on Dec. 8, were the first children to die in CBP custody in a decade, this week said it would step up medical checks of migrant children to try to prevent any more deaths.

Alonzo, an indigenous Maya and native speaker of Chuj, has little Spanish and communicated through a translator. Wearing a sweatshirt and a purple dress, she spoke outside her hut in Yalambojoch, a village of about 1,000 people near the Mexican border.

She related how her son and his father, Agustin, an agricultural worker, had left in early December to find work in the United States to pay off debts. The two also hoped the boy would get a better education in the United States, she said.

Still, Alonzo said her husband had doubts and at one point decided he did not want to take the boy. But that upset the boy, so they resolved he should go.

Alonzo’s sobs could be heard for minutes outside the house before she came out to be interviewed. Afterward she went back inside to a tiny altar she had adorned with three photos of the boy that a local schoolteacher had printed out for her.

The altar stood to one side of a room with cement walls that serves as a bedroom and living area for Alonzo and her three surviving children. Adjoining it was a kitchen with a dirt floor and wooden walls.

Her husband remains in U.S. custody.

“NOW OR NEVER”

Marta Larra, a spokeswoman for Guatemala’s Foreign Ministry, said smugglers known as “coyotes” often encourage migrants to take children as a form of “visa.” Many coyotes, she noted, are trusted by migrant families, so their word carries weight.

But Lucas Perez, the mayor of Yalambojoch, said some coyotes are only interested in ripping off people. Still, for many migrants trying to cross the U.S. border, taking a child along was the “only option,” he told Reuters.

Describing migration from the area as “constant,” Perez estimated about 200 people from the tiny village live in the United States.

Agustin Gomez, the boy’s father, has two brothers in the United States he hoped to meet, his wife said.

Next to her hut, laborers worked on a two-story concrete house with a twin-gabled, tiled roof – evidence of the money coming back from the United States, the mayor said.

Under U.S. law, families from countries that do not border the United States cannot be immediately deported, and because of a longstanding legal settlement, there are restrictions on how long U.S. authorities can detain migrant children.

As a result, families with children are often released to await an immigration court hearing, which can be scheduled well into the future due to ballooning backlogs.

U.S. President Donald Trump has tried to reverse the policy, which he calls “catch and release,” but has been blocked by lawsuits in federal court.

His Democratic opponents have seized on the deaths of the two Guatemalan children to attack his policies. On Thursday, Senator Dianne Feinstein urged the Senate to hold a hearing in the new year on how children are treated in U.S. custody.

In the meantime, Trump’s insistence on building a southern border wall has given coyotes a fresh argument to promote migration, Larra said.

“According to interviews (with migrants), the coyotes are saying ‘it’s now or never’ because the wall is going to be built, and it won’t be possible to cross,” she said.

(Reporting by Sofia Menchu; Additional reporting by Stefanie Eschenbacher in Mexico City and Mica Rosenberg in New York; Editing by Dave Graham, Rosalba O’Brien and Leslie Adler)

Thousands evacuated as Guatemala’s Fuego volcano erupts

Steam rises from Fuego volcano (Volcano of Fire) as seen from San Juan Alotenango, outside of Guatemala City, Guatemala November 19, 2018. REUTERS/Luis Echeverria

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) – Nearly 4,000 people were evacuated on Monday from areas around Guatemala’s Fuego volcano, which began violently erupting overnight, the country’s disaster agency Conred said.

The volcano spewed out dangerous flows of fast-moving clouds of hot ash, lava and gas early Monday and more than 2,000 people had taken refuge in shelters so far, officials from the agency told reporters. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

A general view shows Fuego volcano (Volcano of Fire) erupting as seen from San Juan Alotenango, outside of Guatemala City, Guatemala November 19, 2018. REUTERS/Luis Echeverria

A general view shows Fuego volcano (Volcano of Fire) erupting as seen from San Juan Alotenango, outside of Guatemala City, Guatemala November 19, 2018. REUTERS/Luis Echeverria

More dangerous flows of hot ash and lava could be expelled, said Juan Pablo Oliva, the head of the country’s seismological, volcanic and meteorological institute Insivumeh.

In June, explosive flows from Fuego killed more than 190 people.

This is the fifth eruption so far this year of the 3,763-meter (12,346-feet) volcano, one of the most active in Central America, about 19 miles (30 km) south of Guatemala City.

(Reporting by Enrique Garcia; Editing by David Gregorio)