10:40 GMT27 February 2021
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    Tackling illegal immigration was a key policy which helped to get Donald Trump elected in 2016. Joe Biden has already cancelled building of the wall along the Mexican border but if he softens his stance will it lead to a tsunami of migrants?

    Thousands of migrants head north from central America, through Mexico, every year seeking a better life in the US.

    The pandemic has meant this flow of migrants may create a national health risk as few if any arrive with recent negative COVID-19 tests.

    Border wall under construction is seen abandoned after U.S. President Joe Biden signed an executive order halting construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall, in Sunland Park, New Mexico U.S., January 22, 2021.
    © REUTERS / PAUL RATJE
    Border wall under construction is seen abandoned after U.S. President Joe Biden signed an executive order halting construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall, in Sunland Park, New Mexico U.S., January 22, 2021.

    The US Ambassador to Guatemala, William Popp, said at the weekend any migrants who cross the US border "in an irregular manner" will be sent back to their home country.

    Mr Popp met Guatemalan Foreign Minister Pedro Brolo and the Mexican Ambassador to Guatemala Romeo Ruiz.

    Afterwards Mr Brolo said: "Any attempt to create massive flows of people will not be tolerated and will be countered."

    Mr Ruiz told Guatemalans: "Please don't leave your homes, don't put your families in danger, don't put your children at risk."

    But their tough talk contrasts with the noises emerging from the White House.

    ​Last week, on the day of his inauguration, Biden cancelled the “emergency” Trump had declared along the Mexican frontier and said “building a massive wall that spans the entire southern border is not a serious policy solution.”

    Biden said: “My administration is committed to ensuring that the United States has a comprehensive and humane immigration system that operates consistently with our nation’s values.”

    But the danger is that by softening America’s stance on migration - for example scrapping the policy of detaining child migrants travelling alone - Biden could encourage more migrants.

    ​Biden, in his statement, said he intended to pause work on construction of the wall and would being an “assessment of the legality of the funding and contracting methods used to construct the wall.”

    The Trump administration committed US$15 billion towards building a wall along the entire 800 mile frontier with Mexico.

    He promised Mexico would pay for it - they have not paid a cent.

    Where Trump had signed legally binding contracts with construction companies it may be virtually impossible for Biden to cancel them without incurring huge penalties for breach of contract.

    The Biden administration is promising more “carrot” and less “stick” - more investment in the three central American which generate the most migrants.

    Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador - better known as AMLO - spoke to Biden on Friday, 22 January, about the root causes of the migration crisis.

    Mexico has promised to try and stop caravans of migrants heading north from the Guatemalan border and welcomed Biden’s decision to reverse the previous administration's “draconian immigration policies.”

    In the last 20 years the Mexican economy has massively improved and fewer Mexicans seek to migrate to the US.

    A handcuffed Mara Salvatrucha gang member waits for the start of a court trial at the Isidro Menendez Judicial Center in San Salvador, El Salvador, Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019. El Salvador on Tuesday began a mass trial of over 400 alleged gang members, including purported leaders of the feared transnational crime group Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13.
    © AP Photo / Salvador Melendez
    A handcuffed Mara Salvatrucha gang member waits for the start of a court trial at the Isidro Menendez Judicial Center in San Salvador, El Salvador, Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019. El Salvador on Tuesday began a mass trial of over 400 alleged gang members, including purported leaders of the feared transnational crime group Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13.

    Nowadays most of those flooding across into California, Arizona, New Mexico or Texas are Hondurans, Guatemalans or Salvadoreans.

    They often are fleeing violence as well as poverty but sometimes they bring with them allegiances to murderous gangs such as MS-13 or their rivals, Barrio 18.

    Earlier this month 4,000 corralled in the Guatemalan town of Vada Hondo and prepared to head north into Mexico.

    President Alejandro Giammattei ordered troops to break up the caravan after learning none of the migrants had travel documents or proof of negative coronavirus tests.

    Guatemala has accused Honduras of doing nothing to prevent its citizens giving up on their country and heading north.

    AMLO said at the weekend Joe Biden has told him his new administration would send US$4 billion to help economic development in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

    It remains to be seen whether that will be enough to stem the tide.

    Tags:
    Guatemala, United States, Mexico, Donald Trump, Joe Biden
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