(Bloomberg) -- Mexico’s government agency in charge of detaining undocumented migrants slashed its spending by more than half compared to the same period last year, as President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador applied stiff austerity measures throughout his administration.
The National Immigration Institute, known as INM, spent $16 million in the first quarter versus $38 million in the first three months of 2018, according to data from the Finance Ministry.
The cuts come amid an influx of undocumented migrants from Central America, which prompted U.S. President Donald Trump to threaten Mexico with a 5% tariff on all goods if it doesn’t stop them from crossing the U.S. border. The combination of steep budget cuts and soaring immigration has overwhelmed the INM, which needs more funding to operate properly, said Rodolfo Cruz Pineiro, director of the population studies department at Mexico’s Northern Border College in Tijuana.
"With these new austerity policies, Mexico in general isn’t putting the immigration problem in its proper dimensions," Cruz Pineiro said in an interview. Immigration policy needs a “bigger budget in order to overhaul a mechanism that’s a bit obsolete and which is being inundated by the flow of immigrants into this country."
While spending dropped, detentions were up this year. Preliminary data show they more than doubled in May and spiked 79% in April. Still, that doesn’t mean the institute is able to properly handle all of the cases, according to Pineiro, who described immigration stations at Mexico’s southern border as overflowing, with some detainees camping outside. The institute has said detentions were up because of the sharp rise in undocumented migrants from Central America, mainly Honduras, compared to the previous year.
Lopez Obrador took office in December promising to substantially increase the number of humanitarian visas he’d grant, which is one reason migrants have cited for trekking to Mexico from as far afield as Asia and Africa. The country is still granting humanitarian visas, but the approval process has become far more rigorous.
While spending fell by more than half, the INM’s original budget for the first quarter was only 12% less than what was allocated to the institution in the first three months of last year. However, in 2018 the agency spent far more than what was budgeted.
(Updates with detention data for May in fifth paragraph.)
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