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Mexico migrant agency’s access ban draws fire from president

January 30, 2020 GMT
FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2019 file photo, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador listens to questions during his daily morning press conference at the National Palace in Mexico City. Shortly before taking office Lopez Obrador decided to create an army of volunteers dubbed the “servants of the nation,” to canvass people who receive government benefits collecting their personal information in part to see if they might be eligible for yet more help from various programs promised during the campaign for the likes of farmers, the disabled, unemployed youth and the elderly. The effort alarmed opposition political parties who saw it as an attempt to illegally use public funds to promote López Obrador and his leftist Morena party.  (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2019 file photo, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador listens to questions during his daily morning press conference at the National Palace in Mexico City. Shortly before taking office Lopez Obrador decided to create an army of volunteers dubbed the “servants of the nation,” to canvass people who receive government benefits collecting their personal information in part to see if they might be eligible for yet more help from various programs promised during the campaign for the likes of farmers, the disabled, unemployed youth and the elderly. The effort alarmed opposition political parties who saw it as an attempt to illegally use public funds to promote López Obrador and his leftist Morena party.  (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2019 file photo, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador listens to questions during his daily morning press conference at the National Palace in Mexico City. Shortly before taking office Lopez Obrador decided to create an army of volunteers dubbed the “servants of the nation,” to canvass people who receive government benefits collecting their personal information in part to see if they might be eligible for yet more help from various programs promised during the campaign for the likes of farmers, the disabled, unemployed youth and the elderly. The effort alarmed opposition political parties who saw it as an attempt to illegally use public funds to promote López Obrador and his leftist Morena party.  (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2019 file photo, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador listens to questions during his daily morning press conference at the National Palace in Mexico City. Shortly before taking office Lopez Obrador decided to create an army of volunteers dubbed the “servants of the nation,” to canvass people who receive government benefits collecting their personal information in part to see if they might be eligible for yet more help from various programs promised during the campaign for the likes of farmers, the disabled, unemployed youth and the elderly. The effort alarmed opposition political parties who saw it as an attempt to illegally use public funds to promote López Obrador and his leftist Morena party. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2019 file photo, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador listens to questions during his daily morning press conference at the National Palace in Mexico City. Shortly before taking office Lopez Obrador decided to create an army of volunteers dubbed the “servants of the nation,” to canvass people who receive government benefits collecting their personal information in part to see if they might be eligible for yet more help from various programs promised during the campaign for the likes of farmers, the disabled, unemployed youth and the elderly. The effort alarmed opposition political parties who saw it as an attempt to illegally use public funds to promote López Obrador and his leftist Morena party. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte, File)

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on Wednesday criticized a directive from his own immigration agency that temporarily barred access to migrant detention centers by nonprofit groups that monitor conditions and assist migrants.

At least one activist group was allowed into a detention center Wednesday, and the National Immigration Institute said a total of 10 groups would be allowed in by the end of the week.

But the same institute had said Tuesday that access for civic, activist and religious groups to the detention centers would be temporarily suspended. It said that “rescheduling the visits will depend on the work load of each migrant center, with the goal of providing services to the migrants to continue without interruption.”

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The Interior Ministry, which oversees the institute, however, said later Tuesday via Twitter that the suspension was “not authorized by superiors” and “disavowed” the statement.

López Obrador also objected, saying it is “prohibited to prohibit everything, almost everything.”

Claudia León, of the Jesuit Service for Refugees, said she was allowed on Wednesday into the detention center in the southern city of Tapachula, near the border with Guatemala.

León said the conflicting signals from the government sowed doubt, and suggested there were some internal divisions over the crackdown on migrants that was implemented under threats from the United States to slap tariffs on Mexican goods.

“We do not know what is happening. It appears that one sector is obeying the orders that arise from the United States, but another sector is arguing against these backward policies,” said León.

López Obrador defended his administration’s tougher immigration enforcement at the southern border, but insisted there must be transparency.

“How can you imagine that we are going to leave religious groups, members of civil society, social organizations without the ability to enter?” López Obrador said.

Such groups have been an important independent voice about conditions inside the detention centers, which are not open to the public and the press.

Last week, Mexico national guardsmen and immigration agents broke up the latest migrant caravan hours after its members crossed the southern border from Guatemala. Hundreds were detained.