The images of these desperate, determined migrants attacking the sand hill to try to force their way over the U.S. border at San Ysidro—before seeing their dreams drenched in tear gas — testify to a tragedy that has been unfolding for decades in Central America. For those who suffer misery and violence in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador at the hands of corrupt governments that Washington has no qualms accommodating, El Norte still represents the promised land, even in the presence of a president like Donald Trump. The contrast is striking.
But at the same time, these images testify to a lie. If they comfort the white Trump voters in their siege mentality, it is nevertheless true that the United States is not facing an immigration crisis, much less “an invasion.” The drop in the number of border encounters over the last 20 years gives some idea: In 2000, 1.6 million migrants were apprehended, 90 percent of whom were Mexican; last year, the number of arrests was just over 300,000 and fewer than half of those arrested were Mexican nationals.
In fact, for all the harm this U.S. president says immigrants cause, according to The Economist, undocumented Mexican immigrants are now more likely to return to Mexico than to leave for the United States. This shows how much of what Trump is saying is really about voter madness. A madness under which he makes all the threats imaginable to get a Congress where Republicans will partially lose control next January to give him the billions he needs to build his “wall.”
In fact, the epicenter of the debate on Central American migrants is moving partly to Mexico. A tributary of North American trade liberalization for 25 years, its economic development, though weighed down by the appalling violence created by drug trafficking, makes Mexico no longer just a transit stop for these migrants, but also a destination in its own right.
All of these undocumented immigrants crossing the country have annoyed the outgoing president, Enrique Pena Nieto, who is less concerned about the fate of these migrants and the veil they lift to reveal the state of affairs in Central America than the fear that this attracts Trump’s incoherent wrath and poisons his country’s relations with the United States. Presumably, he will be happy to pass the hot potato to his successor, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (known as AMLO) whose inauguration will take place next Saturday, Dec. 1.
AMLO is the most left-wing president the country has ever elected. A man from whom Mexicans expect a lot, especially given that his National Regeneration Movement (Morena) was installed everywhere on July 1—at the legislative, regional, and municipal levels. His relationship with Trump will inevitably be a stormy one and he, too, has promised not to disappoint.
However, against a political plan that reduces the organization of the world to border control, he defends healthy ideas and acts to tackle poverty and corruption, the violence and impunity that are strangling Mexican democracy. He promises to break with militarization in the fight against drug trafficking and proposes to reframe drug consumption using a public health perspective. He argues, with respect to Central America’s problems, that solutions lie ahead and that human development of the region is a collective North American responsibility.
Thus, he appointed Olga Sanchez, a prominent feminist and former Supreme Court judge as secretary of the interior. “It is up to me to establish the rule of law on the ground,” she said this summer in an interview with Le Monde.
This is obviously a big challenge: In Mexico, 43 percent of the population is poor, and only 2 percent of crimes are tried. The program is progressive. The results will necessarily be less so. AMLO has a single six-year term in which to make himself useful. In any case, his election announces a reconfiguration of power that opens the door to a Mexican societal evolution. Canada could be a valuable ally. Let’s hope that the Trudeau government has the necessary skills to participate in this new dynamic.