The United States and Mexico are set to overhaul migration law enforcement policies that decimate due process, violate national and international law and put tens of thousands of asylum seekers at risk of rape, kidnapping and assault as they are forced to wait for court dates in Mexico, a country that is experiencing record levels of violence.
Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard met with Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday, September 10 to discuss next steps regarding a deal struck just over three months ago. The deal is the result of the Trump administration pushing Mexico to step up migration enforcement and allow the expansion of the Stay in Mexico program after threatening to tariff Mexican exports to foreign countries. United States.
The agreement, born of bullying by the Trump administration, contains no commitment to address the fundamental issues driving migration from Central America. Nor does it do anything to make either country’s asylum system more efficient, more humanitarian or more rights-respecting.
Instead, the focus is on draconian and radical measures that have never succeeded in the long term in improving overall migration flows in the region, although they have done much to increase suffering and generate chaos. .
With US border officials now reporting a drop in the number of migrants apprehended at the US-Mexico border compared to previous months, some Trump administration officials cite the numbers as a sign of “progress” in border security. , while others argue that even more is needed. the Mexican government.
In this context, here are six points to better understand the story that the latest border figures do not tell: the full impact of the humanitarian catastrophe caused by a harmful and counterproductive US-Mexico migration agreement.
1.) The US-Mexico migration agreement has helped exacerbate the huge bottleneck of migrants and asylum seekers waiting in dangerous Mexican border towns.
The migration deal allowed the Trump administration to expand the “Remain in Mexico” program, which sends many non-Mexican asylum seekers back to Mexico to await their hearing in US immigration court. The program represents a significant departure from past US asylum policy, to the detriment of those who have come to the United States seeking protection.
“Stay in Mexico” does nothing to alleviate the overall backlog of asylum seekers awaiting court dates in the United States. Instead, he moved a significant portion of that backlog to Mexican border towns, some of which the US State Department deems as dangerous as Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
There, migrants and asylum seekers are very likely to be targeted by corrupt authorities or criminal groups. Research and advocacy group Human Rights First has counted more than 110 violent crimes against asylum seekers returned to Mexico, a figure that is almost certainly underreported.
Asylum seekers participating in the program also face enormous challenges obtaining legal representation, a key component of their successful asylum claim in the United States. A study conducted by Syracuse University’s TRAC found that at the end of June 2019, less than two percent of asylum seekers under the program had access to an attorney.
This bottleneck is exacerbated by a practice known as “counting,” in which US border officials have slowed the processing of asylum seekers at eight official ports of entry. Looking at the available searches on the waiting lists maintained at these entry points, together with the figures for those being returned under “Stay in Mexico”, we can estimate that there are almost 52,000 applicants for asylum pending in Mexican border towns. That’s almost a quarter of the total population of a US border town like Brownsville, Texas.
2.) The US-Mexico migration agreement has prompted Mexican migration and security forces to detain and deport people en masse, raising significant due process concerns.
Mexican migration authorities reported apprehending 128,485 people in the first seven months of this year, a 76 percent increase from the same period last year. June 2019 alone saw the highest number of people apprehended in any month in a seven-year period.
Deportations from Mexico have also increased dramatically, with 84,029 people deported in the first seven months of 2019, according to the country’s migration authority. This is a 38% increase in deportations compared to the same period last year.
This massive increase in arrests and deportations is likely to result in harm to migrants and asylum seekers, as those with legitimate asylum claims are more likely to be deported without first being given the opportunity to seek protection, or without even being informed by Mexican authorities of their right to do so.
As past experiences have shown (and as WOLA observed during a mid-August trip to Mexico’s southern border), this crackdown is also unlikely to cause smugglers to give up. Instead, migrants are likely to take more dangerous routes to avoid migration and security authorities, making them more vulnerable to crimes such as assault, kidnapping and rape.
3) When assessing the impact of the US-Mexico migration deal, Trump administration officials who want to argue that Mexico “still needs to do more” to stop migration can fish out the data for support this erroneous argument.
Of course, apprehensions are down at the US-Mexico border compared to the past few months. But as The Washington Post has reported, some forces in the Trump administration will not be satisfied until migrant apprehensions reach early 2017 levels. saw the lowest monthly border arrest numbers in decades, was an anomaly, a time when many migrants and smugglers went into “wait and see” mode after Trump was elected.
4.) Despite the short-term impact of the US-Mexico migration agreement, past experience suggests that the decline in apprehensions at the US-Mexico border is not necessarily sustainable.
Migration patterns tend to recover after disturbances. Such was the case in 2014-2015, after Mexico – under pressure from the Obama administration – administered a crackdown on migration through a program known as the “Southern Border Plan”. Central American families and children (and migrants for that matter) will continue to leave their country of origin until they can feel safe there and effectively support themselves and their loved ones. family.
Guatemala continues to be the scene of widespread violence, and the government’s decision to close the doors of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala, CICIG) will further weaken the rule of law and will allow corruption to flourish, exacerbating poverty and insecurity. Honduras and El Salvador also continue to have some of the highest homicide rates in the world.
5.) As the United States struggles to shut down, asylum claims are skyrocketing in Mexico, raising questions about capacity.
As the US government shifts its asylum responsibilities to Mexico, asylum applications have skyrocketed. So far this year, Mexico has reported receiving 48,254 asylum applications.
As WOLA previously noted, “Mexico’s asylum system still lacks the capacity to process more than a tiny fraction of the cases of people seeking protection, with an estimated total budget of only 1.2 million dollars for 2019 and a large backlog of cases. »
Without the vital support of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which provides technical assistance and helps pay for office needs ranging from staff salaries to printer toner, Mexico’s refugee agency would have collapsed to this day.
6.) Even though apprehensions at the US-Mexico border are decreasing overall, the number of families and unaccompanied children crossing the border is increasing.
This trend clearly shows that even though the United States and Mexico continue to focus on deterrent policies, they have failed to adapt to a dramatic change in the population arriving at the border.
In 2012, approximately 10% of people apprehended by Border Patrol at the US-Mexico border were children and families. Now, of the 811,016 single adults, unaccompanied children and family units apprehended at the border so far this year, nearly two-thirds (65%) were either children or parents hoping to seek asylum in the United States. United.
The fundamental problem at the US-Mexico border is not the flow of migrant children and families itself; it is the Trump administration’s refusal to adapt its asylum and migration processes to humanely address this new population, a totally different reality from single, adult, mostly Mexican males seeking to escape poverty. capture, which characterized migrant flows before 2012.
Adam Isacson, Maureen Meyer and Elyssa Pachico contributed to this article.