US Pressure on the Migration Issue

We’re winding up a year in which the use of migrants in political rhetoric has been prevalent.

In the context of the increasingly frequent bilateral meetings to discuss the issue of migration, this week, the Mexican government hosted a delegation of high-level U.S. officials. It was U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s second visit in less than three months, focused on controlling the flow of both migrants and drugs.

The agreements made public by Mexican Foreign Minister Alicia Bárcena and in the U.S.-Mexico joint communique are generic and propose some of the commitments that had been previously announced. First, there is the requirement to work on the causes of migration in connection with the countries where migrants originate. The factors driving migration are numerous and complex, and they are interrelated; the principal among them are violence, threats, poverty and persecution. Changing the situation is a long-term objective that requires an intergovernmental plan, economic resources and above all the political will to get it done. Second is the need for joint actions to control illegal immigration, which in practical terms translates into stricter security measures to reduce the number of migrants crossing the border. Third, there is the importance of the fight against cartels and human trafficking and the need to promote development in the region. In addition to good intentions, all these tasks require concrete and well-focused policies. It is necessary to put forward proposals that will facilitate legal pathways for migration, as strengthening a comprehensive model of productive inclusion is the only way to change the situation in the short term.

One success of the Mexican government was putting on the table the unilateral closures by the U.S. of rail crossings like the ones in Eagle Pass and El Paso, Texas, as a means of exerting pressure due to the increase in the number of migrants. Blinken published a message on social media reiterating his commitment to reopening these border crossings. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said there would be no more closures at the border. The closures have had a significant economic impact on industries and border communities in both countries. The Employers Confederation of the Mexican Republic warned of a loss of about $100 million for each day of closure.

Finally, the context in which the visit took place is important. A couple of weeks ago, the Joe Biden administration was forced to negotiate with congressional Republicans as they had blocked his budget requests for Ukraine and Israel. The negotiation was based on the hardening of policies on the issue of migration: On the one hand, the restrictions on the number of humanitarian visas and asylum requests granted by the U.S. and on the other hand, the increase in expedited removals and deportations and the possible reinstatement of the inhumane “Remain in Mexico” policy. During his campaign, Biden harshly criticized “Remain in Mexico” and promised to terminate it. The policy left approximately 75,000 asylum applicants stranded on the Mexican side of the border while they waited for their cases to be approved, contravening international law and U.S. regulations. After a tortuous legal process, the “Remain in Mexico” program was terminated thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that it had exceeded its powers, since it had to be carried out in Mexican territory. So, we hope that it will not be reinstated.

Furthermore, the quick visit to Mexico occurred amid a series of record-breaking waves of migration and the departure of one of the biggest caravans of the year. These unprecedented waves of migration defined the year 2023. In November alone, there were 250,000 detentions by the U.S. Border Patrol. Also, in 2023, Mexico was one of the main recipients of asylum applications, with about 140,000 requests. But above all, we are ending a year that saw the prevalence of the use of migrants for political rhetoric and attacks on President Biden by the Republican Party. In the face of the 2024 U.S. elections, it appears that the pressure on Mexico could intensify in the coming months.

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