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By Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times

TAPACHULA, Mexico — With pressure mounting from the U.S. government, Mexico on Tuesday appointed a czar to take charge of largely unimpeded migration from Central America, which sees tens of thousands of people each year enter southern Mexico and cross the country en route to the United States.

Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, in an announcement before reporters in Mexico City, said the new system would guarantee the safety of migrants as well as their eventual repatriation.

He called on the mayors and governors of key states along the migration route — Quintana Roo, Campeche, Tabasco and here in Chiapas — to cooperate with federal authorities to eventually stem the flow of migrants. Most of those traveling north board the notorious “La Bestia,” or “the Beast,” the freight trains that traverse the country toward the northern border with the United States.

Migrants have been clambering atop the trains for years. Many die every year, falling from their precarious perch or being tossed off by marauding gangs who attempt to extort or rape the migrants.

With new attention focused on the latest surge of young migrants, some of them children traveling without parents, U.S. authorities are urging Mexico, Honduras, and other Central American origin countries to do their part in stopping the flow.

Osorio Chong’s announcement was bereft of concrete details and fell far short of what many observers had expected. He did not specify security measures for “La Bestia” and merely named Humberto Mayans, a senator from his Institutional Revolutionary Party, as the head of an agency that would be independent of the Interior Ministry.

Osorio indicated that independence would make it more efficient, but many in Mexico saw yet another layer of bureaucracy.

He did not take questions from reporters.

Mexico has largely turned a blind eye to the thousands of Central Americans who have crossed the country for decades, despite millions of dollars from the U.S. government allotted for tightening the southern border. In the last several years, the numbers of Central Americans have increased as gang violence, poverty and a growing presence of Mexican drug cartels have made life at home impossible for many.

Previously, Mexico has said it will issue temporary permits for Hondurans and citizens of Belize to remain in this country briefly, but only in border states.

Mexico’s announcement Tuesday came a day after American authorities began deporting Honduran mothers with children and other migrants who arrived in recent days. The deportation flights will continue, the Obama administration has said.

Also on Tuesday, Thomas A. Shannon, a senior U.S. State Department official with extensive experience in Latin America, was expected in Tapachula to observe how Mexico was securing its southern border.

Photo: Los Angeles Times/MCT/Michael Robinson Chavez

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