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Mexican Officials Offer Caravan Members Work Visas If They Stay In Mexico


President Trump has thrust a caravan of migrants to the center of the Republican election campaign, though it is still far from the U.S. border. The caravan is on Mexican soil, and our next guest represents the country with responsibility for it just now. Geronimo Gutierrez is Mexico's ambassador to the United States. Ambassador, good morning.

GERONIMO GUTIERREZ: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: I want to begin with the facts here. Seven thousand or so people, which is a lot of people - looks like a lot on TV. But I do know it's part of this much larger, somewhat ordinary flow of migrants. So how serious a situation is this in the view of your government?

GUTIERREZ: Well, what we're facing here, Steve, is really a humanitarian crisis. The Mexicans' government response has been basically two things - urging people to enter in compliance with immigration law to Mexico and then offering refugee status to all those people from Central America to request it, including health services, education and then identification. What the Mexican government wants to assure is that movement and whatever migration takes place - it's legal. It's safe. And it's orderly.

INSKEEP: The impression from here was that the migrants did not, in the end, follow Mexicans - Mexico's immigration laws. There was an effort to stop them at the border with Guatemala. And in the end, the government more or less let them in. Is that right?

GUTIERREZ: We have been trying to avoid, at all costs, violence in the border. Unfortunately, some of the people in the caravan have been very violent against authority, even though that they have offered the possibility of entering in compliance with immigration law and refugee status. So police there is simply to uphold our laws. There is presence of the human rights commission of Mexico and also of several NGOs that can testify to the fact that the police has acted appropriately. But nevertheless, we want to make sure that our laws are enforced.

INSKEEP: You offered them refugee status, I believe you said. And yet a leader of this group, Sin Fronteras, Without Borders, that is involved in organizing this caravan seemed dubious of that offer and indicated their suspicion that the majority of people who are invited to apply for asylum would ultimately be rejected and deported. Is that actually what tends to happen with asylum seekers?

GUTIERREZ: Well, out of - the number that we have is around 3,500 people. Out of those, we have 1,895 people that have requested - presented a request for refugee status - 1,435 of them are being processed, and about 422 have actually been repatriated to the states. So right now it's unclear. I think that a lot of them will, in fact, end up requesting the status because it's a very generous offer on the part of the Mexican government.

INSKEEP: I'm just going through those numbers. First, you said 3,500. You believe this caravan to be about 3,500 people?

GUTIERREZ: Yes. It's smaller than some of the numbers that have been thrown out there. The official number for us - it's still around 3,000 of them are in the states of Chiapas and Oaxaca. The caravan was a little bit bigger, but around 2,000, as I mentioned, of our original close to 5,000 have already presented their request for refugee status.

INSKEEP: This seems important from a U.S. perspective, Ambassador, because you're saying the caravan is smaller than reported, and it's getting smaller over time as some of them accept refugee status. There aren't actually that many people heading for the U.S. anymore.

GUTIERREZ: Well, some of them are - clearly intend to get to the U.S., and we have close cooperation with U.S. authorities to handle this in the best possible way. But I do have to say that the official figures of the people that are still in the caravan and such is around 3,500, a little bit less perhaps. And around 2,000 of the original group have already requested a refugee status in Mexico. And this situation continues to evolve and, obviously, being monitored by Mexican authorities and, as appropriate, in coordination with the U.S. authorities. Again, we want to assure - we have a humanitarian crisis in our hands, but we want to assure that this is handled - that migration is handled legally, safe and orderly.

INSKEEP: Ambassador, thanks very much for the time - really appreciate it.

GUTIERREZ: On the contrary, Steve. Thank you for this space.

INSKEEP: Geronimo Gutierrez is Mexico's ambassador to the United States. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.