Mexico To Grant Humanitarian Visas To Children, Pregnant Women

In a move distinguished from recent action toward individuals in transit, Mexico announced on Thursday that it would grant humanitarian visas to pregnant women and children, part of the most recent group traveling from Central America and the Caribbean through Mexico. These visas will last a year and enable access to healthcare, work authorization and other public services during the lengthy asylum process in Mexico City and further north, near the U.S. border.

An anonymous Mexican official told Reuters that authorities wanted to avoid any incidents like the violent confrontations which, in recent weeks and months, have sparked criticism from the public and condemnation from Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. With the exception of an incident on October 23rd, which saw 400 law enforcement officers in anti-riot gear attempt to block the group’s movement at a highway checkpoint in the southern border city of Tapachula, this has mostly been achieved.

“We haven’t had any problems with immigration officials. God is opening doors for us,” Julio Gonzalez, a Honduran accompanied by his wife and two children, told Reuters.

Certainly, this move to broaden the social safety net for individuals in transit is, in many ways, necessary. But the move also limits access to humanitarian visas and implicitly distinguishes between those deemed innocent – i.e., worthy of Western compassion – and those deemed less so. Migrants are judged to be sufficiently innocent and legitimate based on their resemblance to the quintessential humanitarian victim: vulnerable, passive, and subject to suffering. In this case, as in most others, pregnant women and children are the ones who meet the mark.

As subjects of Mexico’s protection, enacted by the distribution of the visas, the unnamed pregnant women and children are transformed into non-threatening brown bodies and victims of circumstance, “worthy” of care by the state apparatus. This not only undermines the human dignity of these individuals but also that of their companions: the husbands, brothers, fathers, and friends who are excluded from this highly bureaucratic designation of worth and left without similar assurances of protection. This distinction also effectively obscures the circumstances framing the migrants’ need for asylum, namely the unemployment, violence, and general lack of security present in their home countries.

As the Mexican official suggested, recent criticism primarily motivated this decision. Pressure from the U.S., which has seen record levels of irregular migration this year, also played some role. With U.S. president Joe Biden facing increasing backlash from Republicans and right-wing media pundits on this issue, there is an impulse to encourage asylum-seekers to stay in Mexico (and out of the U.S.) for as long as possible. The humanitarian visas will likely put off U.S. responsibility for the migrants to some extent, and keep at least some pregnant women and children from the perilous conditions in U.S. detention facilities for a while longer.

Especially given this context, Mexico’s announcement reinforces how human suffering is used time and again as a political tool to elicit compassion and create a certain voting response. Determining who gets a visa has less to do with the individuals in transit themselves and more to do with the powers which dictate their positioning in the first place, as those powers come to produce, acknowledge, and view “suffering” and who suffers through a selective lens.

We often follow the events related to mass migration as news, but we seldom acknowledge the conditions which produce mass human movement or affect how those people resettle. In cases like this, where migration is politicized, it is all the more vital to analyze how, consciously or otherwise, politicians, media organizations, and aid groups reinforce and manipulate those conditions to their own ends.