A picture of an armed Mexican National Guard soldier impeding a crying migrant mother and her child from getting to the United States is spreading on social media and making headlines in Mexico.
Critics of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s tighter border enforcement have seized on the image to decry Mexico’s new security plan, implemented after intense pressure from the Trump administration.
In the photo taken by Reuters, the soldier stands on a dry riverbed between the Mexican city of Juárez and El Paso, Texas. He holds a firearm pointed toward the ground. The woman weeps and clutches her young son.
In a video of the scene published Wednesday by Mexico’s El Universal newspaper, the woman pleads with the National Guard to let her and her boy pass into the United States.
“Let me pass, I beg of you,” the woman, identified as Lety Pérez of Guatemala, repeatedly sobs. “Don’t let them send me back. I just want to give my son a better life,” she says.
Sarukhan served under President Felipe Calderón. Calderón retweeted the post and added, “what a shame! The government of Mexico shouldn’t have accepted this.”
Former President Calderón has been an outspoken critic of the current leader’s stepped-up immigration policies.
Last month, President Trump threatened to slap tariffs on goods from Mexico if the country did not take action to prevent migrants from crossing its border and into the United States. López Obrador, a longtime defender of migrants’ rights, quickly capitulated, sending nearly 21,000 members of the newly formed National Guard to both the southern and northern borders of Mexico.
Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard told reporters on Monday that in the six weeks since Mexico agreed with the U.S. to ramp up border enforcement, the number of migrants reaching the U.S. has dropped more than 36%.
But critics condemn López Obrador’s administration for succumbing to Trump’s threats and doing what many have called the United States’ dirty work.
When contacted by NPR, Sarukhan said that the two countries must share responsibility over the border and that Mexico must improve its control. But, he added in an email, “no country, be it the U.S. or Mexico, can enforce its way out of an immigration crisis without addressing the root causes for Central American transmigration to the U.S. via Mexico.”
López Obrador has defended his policy, telling reporters on Wednesday that it “respects human rights, supports productive activities and attention to the causes of migration.” His administration has proposed a development and reforestation plan for much of Central America, urging the U.S. and the European Union to contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to the effort.
Many Mexicans support tougher immigration enforcement, even if it is driven by pressure from the U.S. and Trump’s tariff threats.
In a recent poll conducted by the Mexican newspaper Reforma and The Washington Post, 6 out of 10 Mexicans surveyed say migrants are a burden on their country. Fifty-five percent said they support deporting Central Americans caught transiting Mexico to the United States.
Sarukhan says such growing sentiments are worrisome. “Many Mexicans need to take a hard look in the mirror. The creeping and heartless xenophobia in Mexico is unacceptable and incongruous for a country that has 5 million undocumented migrants in the U.S.,” he wrote in an email.
The Reuters photo is just the latest image to draw wide attention to the plight of Central American migrants.
The National Guard member seen in the image is standing in the Guatemalan woman’s path. Under orders, the military is not allowed to apprehend migrants, only to call for an immigration agent if a detention is necessary, as NPR reported last week.
In the encounter between the soldier and the migrants, it appeared that the National Guardsman followed those orders. However, later in the video by El Universal, the woman and her child are shown crossing the dry, brush-filled riverbed toward El Paso, where several U.S. Customs and Border Protection vehicles are waiting in the distance.