Mexican National Guard not spotted in Tijuana on day of expected arrival
By WENDY FRY | The San Diego Union-Tribune | Published: June 29, 2019
Tijuana, Baja California (Tribune News Service) — Little is known about Mexico's new, militarized police force, which was recently deployed to Mexico's northern border to try to stem Central American migration to the United States.
Expected in Tijuana on Friday, some troops with an arm band that said "GN" were spotted in Mexicali, but no members of the brand-new National Guard were seen on the other side of the San Diego border, as of late Friday afternoon.
The National Guard, formed in March, was initially tasked with fighting Mexico's escalating drug violence, but its mission changed amid threats from the Trump administration to impose retaliatory tariffs unless more is done to stop migrants from reaching the U.S. border.
Mexican Defense Minister Luis Cresencio Sandoval said Monday at a morning news conference that between 14,000 to 15,000 troops and members of the National Guard would be deployed along the entire length of Mexico's border with the United States, which stretches from Tijuana, Baja California to Matamoros, Tamaulipas.
The announcement marked an unprecedented shift in policy. Mexico has historically resisted demands from the U.S. government to seal its northern border, and its president Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been an outspoken defender of migrant rights.
Since Monday, details released by government officials about exactly when, where and how many troops would be arriving in different Mexican border states have been confusing and contradictory.
The newly elected, incoming governor, Jaime Bonilla, issued a press release on Wednesday saying a first batch of about 500 members of the National Guard was scheduled to arrive Friday.
The news release indicated more guards would follow, but it remains unclear if the 500 guards are already part of a 2,000-member "pilot program" of National Guard troops previously sent to Tijuana, as announced by López Obrador in March. Or whether the 500 members in the initial batch will be in addition to the troops reportedly already in Tijuana to address the city's skyrocketing homicide rates caused by the local drug trade.
Isaías Bertin Sandoval, the secretary of security and citizen protection for Mexico's federal government, said the National Guard will begin operations in Tijuana on Monday. He said the troops had already arrived in TJ and were looking for a place to stage on the border.
Baja California reporters and photographers fanned out all over the city Friday in a cooperative effort aimed at locating the guards, but none were spotted.
Details also remain contradictory about how the National Guard will engage migrants.
A delegate from the federal government to Baja California told the news agency AFN Tijuana on Friday that the troops were coming to "rescue the migrants."
"People who have antisocial conditions or have a criminal record, will be deported as the law says, but to the Central American brothers who are seeking to improve the living conditions of their family or who migrate because of hunger, we will give them the treatment they deserve ... ," Alejandro Ruiz Uribe told the news agency.
Sandoval said Monday the troops were tasked with stopping migrants from crossing the border and handing them over to immigration authorities.
The new militarized police force is comprised of a combination of Navy police, military police and federal police, according to Sandoval.
In May, Mexico's Congress agreed on the organization of the new National Guard, but specific provisions or guidelines or rules on how it will function have not yet been fully formed.
That law was published just one month ago and allows for 180 days for the government to form rules and regulations for the new agency.
On March 27, Sandoval said at a morning press conference in Mexico City that new recruits would complete three months of basic training and four months of specialized public safety training. Even new recruits who joined the day after that news conference would only have had time to complete basic training.
Migrant advocates say they are very concerned about the uncertainty.
Sergio Tamai, the leader of the Angels Without Borders migrant advocacy and shelter group, said the lack of clear rules and training for the Mexican military troops is a recipe for disaster.
"We are not in agreement with any of the National Guard elements," said Tamai. "Right not, Mexico is doing the dirty work of the United States immigration policy and not respecting the human rights of migrants."
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