US seeks Latin American help with migrants

The rise of Asian, African and Middle Eastern migrants trying to reach the US has Washington seeking coordination with Latin American countries to tackle this problem.

Reuters has exclusively reported Washington is seeking cooperation with Latin American countries due to the rise of immigrants from Asia, Africa and the Middle East trying to reach the US from the south.

Since October 2015 US agents have vetted more than 640 migrants from outside the Americas, according to documents from the US Department of Homeland Security seen my Reuters.

According to 14 interviews conducted at a US immigration facility on Mexico's southern border the usual route begins in Brazil when migrants fly in and obtain fake passports. They're smuggled to Panama and then continue their journey through Central America.

So far the Mexican immigration data showed 6,342 Asian, African and Middle Eastern migrants were apprehended trying to enter Mexico in the first semester of 2016. 2,000 more than in all 2015 (4,262) and higher than the 1,831 in 2014.

US immigration border apprehensions have shown the same trend. Between October 2015 and May 2016 5,350 African and Asian immigrants were retained at the US southern border.

The US fears potential security risks from migrants using the southern route as the string of Islamic State inspire attacks rise in the West.

"The reality is that the vast majority of the people that Mexico encounters that are extra-continental will eventually end up on our border," a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) official said to Reuters.

Two to three US Customs and Border Patrol agents have been stationing at the detention camp in Tapachula, near Mexico's border with Guatemala and training their Mexican counterparts on interview techniques and using US criminal databases to investigate the detainees.

A similar pilot program has been taking place in Panama since October 2015 according to an internal memo sent in May. Reuters reported Homeland Security Agents were requested by Panama for training. A spokesman from Panama's National Migration Service said the country accepted a US embassy offer for training in subjects like defense techniques and management of people.

The idea is to build a "comprehensive intelligence picture" of migration patterns across the Colombia-Panama border said the memo.

Panama has been leading the efforts in Central America to stop illegal migrants said Alan Bersin in March, DHS assistant secretary for international affairs. But they are lacking detention space and have difficulties in deporting migrants to countries whom they don't have diplomatic ties.  As a result most are released 30 days later.

"While many citizens of these countries migrate for economic reasons or because they are fleeing persecution in their home countries, this group may include migrants who are affiliated with foreign terrorist organizations, intelligence agencies, and organized criminal syndicates," Bersin told the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. 

Additional "mentor" teams have been deployed throughout South and Central America to help professionalize immigration authorities and gain intelligence on potential threats said DHS officials but denied to specify the countries.

On the other hand, another DHS official said the agency is requesting the Brazilian government to put a stop on fake passport manufacturing but Brazilian officials didn't respond to Reuter's request for comments.


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