Mexico extends $100 million reforesting program to Honduras

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico said Monday it will extend a reforestation program to Honduras, and increase funding to $100 million to create jobs in Central America and stem migration from the region.

Mexico had already announced a $30 million tree-planting program for El Salvador and that money is presumably part of the $100 million total effort.

Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico’s foreign relations secretary, said Honduras’ president is expected to finalize details in a visit to Mexico this month.

Ebrard said creating jobs will do more to stop the flow of migrants than border enforcement measures.

It is unclear whether Guatemala will also join Mexico’s reforestation program.

A similar plan to plant fruit and lumber trees is already being implemented in southern Mexico. It is one of the pet projects of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Ebrard also said that 327 Central American migrants awaiting US asylum hearings have found jobs in northern Mexico and that companies had offered a total of 3,700 positions.

Under the Remain in Mexico program, 18,503 Central Americans who applied for asylum in the United States have been returned to Mexico so far this year to await resolution of their U.S. cases.

Critics claim the program, also known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, leaves migrants in Mexican border cities with no income or housing.

Ebrard said Mexican officials had overcome legal hurdles to allow migrants to work while they are waiting. Many of the jobs are at border assembly plants known as maquiladoras.

Ebrard said Mexico had also arranged with 16 border shelters to house at least some of the waiting migrants.

Mexico’s labor ministry announced the “Juarez Initiative” to find jobs and provide shelter and support services for waiting migrants in the border cities of Tijuana, Mexicali and Ciudad Juarez. The federal government would pay for the actions.

Horacio Duarte Olivares, deputy secretary of employment, said the migrants wouldn’t be taking jobs from Mexicans, but rather filling openings. The government would fast-track their applications for work permits, he said.

However, some asylum applicants appear to have given up. In early July, 66 Central Americans who had been returned to the border city of Ciudad Juarez to await the outcome of their U.S. asylum claims were bused back to their home countries.

Mexico has increasingly detained migrants in raids on buses, trucks, trains and motels, under pressure from the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump to prevent migrants from reaching the U.S. border.

On Monday, Mexico’s federal Public Safety Department said federal police pulled 228 migrants off a freight truck that was supposedly carrying soft drinks in the southern border state of Chiapas. The driver and an assistant were arrested. The migrants came from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.