“Nobody is going to come here to trample on our laws,” he continues. “Nobody is going come here to trample on our country, on our land.”
Mexico, they argue, actually built US President Donald Trump’s border wall after all — not with concrete or bricks or steel, but with thousands of federal forces like this camouflage-clad commander and the troops following his orders.
And Mexico, they argue, is paying for it.
Trump: ‘Mexico is showing us great respect’
A few days later, Trump told reporters he was “using Mexico to protect our border” because Democrats weren’t doing enough to fix the immigration system.
“Mexico’s enhanced border security efforts along their southern border continue to have a dramatic impact on this regional crisis,” he wrote. “I just returned from Mexico where we had collaborative discussions on stemming the flow of illegal migration throughout the region.”
Not everyone is praising the increased collaboration.
The recent video of the National Guard’s response to the caravan of migrants from Central America and Africa drew backlash on social media.
“It’s true: President Trump is using Mexico. And, against all logic, Mexico is letting him get away with it,” he wrote. “This has to change.”
Thousands of troops deployed
Asked to respond to claims that Mexico is effectively paying for the wall Trump wanted, foreign ministry spokesman Roberto Velasco told CNN that migration flows have notably decreased in recent months, and that efforts continue for a regional development plan to address the root causes of migration in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
“The number of migrants presented before Mexican authorities has decreased by 70% from June to September,” he said.
López Obrador has said he had no choice but to negotiate.
Nearly 15,000 troops are deployed to Mexico’s northern border, where they’ve set up 20 checkpoints, Mexican Defense Minister Luis Cresencio Sandoval said last week at a press briefing on the country’s security strategy. At the southern border, 12,000 troops are deployed and have set up 21 checkpoints.
Military helicopters regularly conduct aerial reconnaissance in both border regions, he said. So far, Cresencio said, more than 60,000 migrants have been intercepted as part of the effort.
At the same press conference, officials noted that the number of migrants seeking asylum in Mexico has increased dramatically, with some 80,000 asylum applications expected by the end of this year.
‘The message on the ground’
Analysts told CNN the video of efforts by Mexican authorities to block the recent caravan is a revealing window into how Mexico’s shifting policies are unfolding.
“The message given is that Mexico is not interested in protecting people that are in need,” says Gretchen Kuhner, director of the Institute for Women in Migration, a Mexican advocacy organization. “The message given by this general is not the official message of the government, but it explains very well what the message on the ground is.”
Ana Maria Salazar, a former US deputy assistant defense secretary who’s now a security analyst based in Mexico, says images of the operation illustrate concerns critics had when Mexico’s National Guard was swiftly formed and deployed this year.
“This is someone who was trained to protect the national sovereignty, not someone who handles migrants. And these are the worries in forming a National Guard so hastily,” she said. “You can’t expect that from one day to the next, a soldier that is trained to protect the territory against enemies of the state will now be responsible for people that are trying to cross illegally into the country. These are very different missions and this is reflected in the images and what the commander says.”
In some ways, Salazar says, López Obrador is doing Trump’s bidding when it comes to his government’s handling of migrants. Such strict immigration enforcement along Mexico’s southern border hasn’t been seen before, she adds.
But Salazar says that López Obrador, unlike his predecessors, has “so much credibility in Mexico that he can assume the political costs of this decision.”
In the past, she says, presidents would have been attacked for taking such steps, and international pressure would have mounted.
“That pressure, which was there for former Mexican governments,” she says, “has been extremely silent on the decisions of this government.”
In fact, public opinion toward migrants in Mexico appears to be shifting, too.
A poll conducted by the Washington Post and Mexican newspaper Reforma over the summer showed a sizable majority of Mexicans felt that increased migration through the country from Central America was a burden on Mexico’s economy and services. Just over half favored deporting more migrants.
CNN’s Natalie Gallón reported from Mexico City. CNN’s Catherine E. Shoichet reported from Washington. CNN en Español’s Rey Rodriguez contributed to this report.