Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, an anti-establishment leftist who came to office vowing to protect migrants' rights, has been pushed into a more hardline stance by US President Donald Trump. — AFP Photo
MEXICO CITY — Mexico's president vowed on Tuesday to investigate the controversial detention of migrants trying to cross the US border, saying the 15,000 troops he has deployed there have no such orders.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a leftist who took office in December vowing to protect migrants' rights, has come under fire over an AFP journalist's images last week of heavily armed National Guardsmen forcibly detaining two women and a girl at the Rio Grande river, across from El Paso, Texas.
International law protects the right of undocumented migrants to cross borders to seek asylum, and Mexico had not typically stopped them from doing so at its northern border.
However, Lopez Obrador is facing pressure from US President Donald Trump to slow a surge of Central American migrants, and his government is eager to show results and avoid the punitive tariffs the US president threatened last month to impose on Mexican goods.
Facing a backlash at home, the leader known as "AMLO" denied the National Guard and army were under orders to stop migrants fleeing violence and poverty from crossing the US border.
"No such order has been issued, and we are going to review that case, so that it doesn't happen again, because that's not our job," he told a news conference.
That statement contradicted what Lopez Obrador's own defense minister said on Monday in a joint news conference with the president.
Asked whether Mexican forces were detaining migrants to prevent them from crossing the northern border, Defense Minister Luis Cresencio Sandoval replied: "Yes."
National Guardsmen interviewed Monday by AFP in Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso, confirmed their superiors had instructed them to stop migrants from crossing the border.
"They tell us we're not detaining enough, that migration levels are the same," said one, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"When they saw the photo (of the migrant detention), they told us we can't touch the migrants. But at the same time, they order us to detain them and produce results," he added.
Another told AFP the detained migrants sometimes cry and beg to be released.
"But I can't do that. They'll punish me if I do that. I have to (detain them) to do my job, to finish my deployment here and see my family again soon."
Mexico dodged Trump's tariff threat by agreeing to reinforce its southern border with 6,000 National Guardsmen and expand its policy of taking back migrants while the US processes their asylum claims.
The deal, reached on June 7, gives Mexico 45 days to show results.
Initially, Lopez Obrador created the National Guard – a new force that is still being set up – for an entirely different purpose: to fight drug cartels and curb rising levels of violence.
The force's mission creep has caused controversy in Mexico. — AFP