A group of Central Americans crossed into Mexico in March as part of a migrant "caravan" heading to the United States border.
Donald Trump: No more DACA deal
02:07 - Source: CNN
Washington CNN  — 

President Donald Trump on Monday attacked the Mexican government for not doing enough to stop migration to the US – but immigration rights activists for years have complained that Mexico is in fact doing too much.

The Mexican government has been stopping nearly as many Central Americans in recent years as the US, working closely with the US government to jointly control the southern border.

The migration of Mexicans into the US has been declining for years, with more Mexicans leaving the US than arriving. But the journey for Central Americans fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries to sneak into the US or seek asylum there goes squarely through Mexico, which has caused the US and Mexican governments in recent years to try to stop more of the migrants before they reach the US.

Once they arrive at the US border, migrants can legally claim they qualify for asylum and, if they meet the threshold credibility test, they can pursue their claims in a court process that usually takes years to complete, during which time many can live and work in the US.

But Trump spent Sunday and Monday tweeting against Mexico’s efforts.

“Mexico is doing very little, if not NOTHING, at stopping people from flowing into Mexico through their Southern Border, and then into the U.S. They laugh at our dumb immigration laws. They must stop the big drug and people flows, or I will stop their cash cow, NAFTA. NEED WALL!,” Trump tweeted Sunday.

“Mexico has the absolute power not to let these large ‘Caravans’ of people enter their country. They must stop them at their Northern Border, which they can do because their border laws work, not allow them to pass through into our country, which has no effective border laws,” he continued on Monday, slightly more favorably to Mexico, adding later, “Mexico is making a fortune on NAFTA…They have very strong border laws - ours are pathetic.”

According to statistics from the US and Mexican governments compiled by the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, Mexico in 2015 apprehended tens of thousands more Central Americans in its country than the US did at its border, and in 2015 and 2016 it deported roughly twice as many Central Americans as the US did.

In the past two years, Mexico has lagged behind the US in apprehensions, but Migration Policy Institute President Andrew Selee, an expert on Mexican policy, said that could be due to a number of factors including smugglers successfully changing their routes to avoid detection or relations with Trump.

Even a recent Department of Homeland Security study concluded this fall that “available data indicate that the southwest land border is more difficult to illegally cross today than ever before.”

Selee warned that interrupting the cooperation between the US and Mexico could be dangerous for the US.

“They’re actually increasingly trying to manage the border together, and part of the reason the border is more in control now than it’s ever been is that the US and Mexican governments work together now more than ever – and the last thing the US needs now is to blow up that cooperation,” Selee said.

In 2014, Mexico unveiled a policy it called Frontera Sur, or Southern Border. The program called for a crackdown on the flow of Central American migrants and smuggling routes. But advocates say the government had been trending this way previously, even as the policies remain unpopular with Mexican citizens, according to Selee.

Advocacy groups have been sounding the alarm about the high rate of Mexican apprehensions and deportations in recent years, saying that the government is actually jeopardizing these migrants’ human rights by denying them the ability to make asylum claims, failing to protect them from victimization while traveling through Mexico, and then sending them back to life-threatening conditions at home.

“Frontera Sur institutionalized a policy of enforcement, but the violations of Central American migrants that were ongoing and not facilitating access for them to request protection have been ongoing,” said Daniella Burgi-Palomino, a senior associate at the civil society activist Latin America Working Group. “Mexico has continued this … very harsh enforcement policy over the last couple years. It’s already doing that job, it doesn’t need any more pressure from the US to do its job.”

CNN’s Catherine Shoichet and Leyla Santiago in Mexico City contributed to this report