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Trump's wall pledge sparks surge in Central American immigrants
[GUATEMALA CITY] President Donald Trump's pledge to build a "big, beautiful, powerful wall" along the Mexican border is persuading more Central Americans to try to get into the US before he makes good on his promise.
Coyotes, or people smugglers, are telling those anxious to flee violence and poverty in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador that it is now or never, causing immigration flows to surge, said Alejandra Gordillo, head of the National Council for Migrants at Guatemala's foreign ministry.
Mr Trump has repeatedly promised to construct the barrier, which he says will help keep out unwanted migrants and drugs, and has also pledged to deport undocumented immigrants. US Border Patrol detained 136,670 migrants along the southwest border in the fourth quarter, up 33 per cent from the same period in 2015.
"The flow of migrants rose because coyotes are encouraging them," Ms Gordillo said.
"They are telling them that now you can pass," before Trump builds a wall and "they're making it easier for migrants to pay".
Coyotes charge about US$6,500 to take migrants through Mexico and into the United States, Ms Gordillo said.
For those who don't have the cash, coyotes are extending credits with longer maturities and accepting cars and properties as collateral, she added.