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A pollero might promise safe passage all the way across the U.S. border for $3,000. If the migrant can’t pay, he may be more likely to fall prey to kidnappers along the route.

“The polleros are all over this neighborhood and they prey on the shelter,” said the resident, who asked that his name not be used. “The government is basically committing a crime by permitting this stuff to go on.”

Others take an even more conspiratorial view, arguing that the Mexican state is facilitating attacks on migrants intentionally to curry favor with U.S. policymakers.

Mexico says to the U.S., ‘Hey, we’d like for you to give good treatment to Mexican immigrants in the United States, and if Central American migration is an inconvenience for you, we’ll take care of it,’” Father Pantoja said.

“This amounts to doing the dirty work for the United States,” he said. “As a result, the wall is not really on the Rio Grande River. The wall is much farther south.”

‘Always full here’

Attempts to pin an accurate figure on the number of Central Americans sneaking into Mexico during recent years have been complicated by increased lawlessness along the nation’s 750-mile southern border with Guatemala and Belize.

While it may be impossible to prove, Mexican authorities estimate that 171,000 migrants cross the jungle-thick border each year.

Mexico’s National Migration Institute detained more than 66,000 migrants during transit through the country in 2011, according to a report issued this month by the Washington Office on Latin America.

The report cited a significant drop in the flow of U.S.-bound Central American migrants from about 433,000 in 2005 to roughly 140,000 in 2010 because of decreased employment in the United States and rising insecurity in Mexico.

Statistics by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security show that the number of illegal immigrants captured while attempting to cross the U.S. border also declined sharply in the latter half of the past decade.

The number of Border Patrol apprehensions, a generally accepted barometer for illegal immigration into the United States, plummeted from 1,189,000 in 2005 to fewer than 465,000 in 2010.

A recent study by the Pew Hispanic Center, meanwhile, asserted that the net number of Mexicans immigrating to the United States — legally or illegally — has fallen to zero. From 2005 to 2011, about 1.4 million Mexican immigrants entered the U.S. and a similar number of Mexican nationals and their children left the country, the Pew study says.

Recent evidence, however, suggests that the number of Central Americans heading north is rebounding and may even be surging.

The Mexico City newspaper La Jornada last week cited interviews with relief workers at Catholic Church-run migrant shelters throughout southern and eastern Mexico in a report that says the number of Central Americans heading north has increased by 100 percent in recent weeks.

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