Kushner’s Migrants

Whatever the exact reason for Donald Trump’s special envoy visit to Mexico last week may have been, the principal motive for the interaction between Jared Kushner and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was clearly Central American migration. Leaks before and after the meeting suggest that the United States is increasingly concerned about the growing number of Hondurans, Salvadorans and now especially, Guatemalans who arrive at Mexico’s border. The U.S. is also getting increasingly upset by the poor effort of the Mexican government to stop them.

It might seem like a bad joke that in spite of all the dirty work the Mexican authorities have undertaken since the beginning of December, both in the south and in the north, Washington complains it is not enough. In the south, the humanitarian parole delivery program has been suspended since the end of January. In the north, we not only receive Central American asylum seekers awaiting their hearings, in violation of U.S. law and international rights of asylum, namely the principle of non-refoulement, but we also actively participate in the efforts of both governments to prevent the entry of Central Americans into the United States.

A few days ago, according to the newspaper Reforma, “In two raids and after repelling several attacks, federal and Tamaulipas state agents in Reynosa apprehended 107 Central American migrants attempting to cross into the United States.”

They were probably “express migration” migrants, a new type of system described in the Washington Post a week ago and suggested by the government of Lopez Obrador through the Minister of Public Security. It is a new scheme devised by “polleros” or coyotes (people smugglers) who pick up hundreds of migrants on the southern border, mainly in Ciudad Hidalgo, and transport them to the northern border in three days, without stops along the way, without rapes, assaults, safe houses, etc. The fare costs more, but it is safer and faster. Upon entering the U.S. through border gaps or across the river, they surrender to U.S. authorities and request asylum.

The vast majority remains in that country despite the shameful “Remain in Mexico” policy accepted by the office of the chancellor and the government. To give some idea, it seems that only 250 Hondurans have been “entrusted” to Mexico during the last two months, but in February alone, U.S. Customs and Border Protection detained 76,000 undocumented migrants who tried to enter the United States.

The Lopez Obrador government does not only commit abuses along the northern border of Mexico. Again, according to Reforma, on Saturday, “A new group of straggling Central Americans departed yesterday from Tapachula toward the north of the country, hoping to cross to the United States to solicit asylum…The majority of the 1,200 migrants became stranded in the region, trying to regularize their status before the National Institute of Migration. They nevertheless decided to set off on the journey because of the slow process and the rejection of their petitions for free transit through the country. ‘We did not fix anything at the National Institute of Migration, and that’s why we had to leave. They took care of the people who paid first, and we were last.’”

The problem for Kushner and Trump is that all this dirty work by Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is not enough. The arrests at the southern border of the United States could, in 2019, exceed the historical peak of 1.6 million in 2000. It is true that at that time, the majority were Mexicans who wagered they would not be detained, while the Central Americans surrender, making little effort to flee; it is easier to apprehend them. They are accompanied by minors, and their mission is to request asylum. Therefore, the figures are not fully comparable.

Some projections estimate that in 2019, the number of detentions will approach 2 million. Customs and Border Protection lacks the logistical capacity to protect whole families, who by law cannot be separated, for months, nor can they deport them to their countries of origin without a hearing. On the other hand, Mexico, despite Lopez Obrador’s best intentions to please Trump, cannot take in that many people.

Hence Kushner and Trump’s annoyance and the demand to intensify efforts to seal the southern border, as Enrique Peña Nieto did at Obama’s request in 2014. But Trump is not Obama, Lopez Obrador is not Peña (he has a real base) and the numbers are not the same. I believe, without knowing anything, that this was the reason Kushner came to Mexico.

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