Recently, the Mexican government announced its commitment to assist asylum-seeking migrants forced to stay in the country by outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump’s Remain in Mexico policy. Under this policy, adults and families seeking asylum in the U.S., who arrive by land at the U.S.-Mexico border, are forced to stay in Mexico while their asylum cases are passed through the U.S. immigration court system. This U.S. policy is undoubtedly placing a heavy burden on Mexico’s infrastructure. However, according to Al Jazeera and Human Rights Watch, most migrants affected by this policy are from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, and many don’t speak Spanish. With various countries involved, this begs the question: Who should take responsibility for these migrants and ensure they have access to shelter, education, healthcare, and other necessities?
Undoubtedly, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador should resolve social, economic, and political issues that cause migrants to flee to the north in the first place. However, these sending countries are without the ability to assist migrants already near the U.S.-Mexico border. On the one hand, Mexico is a transit country, meaning migrants travel through this country to their destination. Under the U.S.’s Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), the Department of Homeland Security claims that the U.S. can force asylum-seekers to a “contiguous country” while their asylum requests are processed, says Justice for Immigrants. This suggests the U.S. is not responsible for the care of these migrants. In this way, Mexico should provide interim shelter, healthcare, and services to this vulnerable population.
However, as these migrants are trying to enter the U.S., it seems the U.S. must provide housing and safety to migrants waiting for passage into the country. Under a different INA section, U.S. Congress guarantees that asylum-seekers must stay in the U.S. while their requests are processed. Further, the INA states that the U.S. government should conduct a “credible fear interview” with asylum-seekers. If persecution claims are supported, migrants should stay in the U.S., asserts Justice for Immigrants. According to NBC, the U.S. has sent over $17 million to Mexico to aid these asylum-seekers as of January 2020. Ultimately, much uncertainty revolves around whose responsibility these migrants are. There isn’t a clear understanding of this policy’s legality and validity, which seeks to benefit the U.S. immigration system rather than asylum-seekers.
According to Justice for Immigrants, the U.S. released this policy in 2019 as part of its Migrant Protection Protocols, essentially seeking to protect migrants. Yet, nearly two years since its inception, the Remain in Mexico policy seems to only put migrants in danger with makeshift shelters, little services, the threat of gang violence, and now COVID-19, claims Justice for Immigrants. U.S. News and World Report say that migrants are now forced to live outside of migrant shelters because of coronavirus outbreaks. Human Rights Watch asserts that gangs and criminal organizations are kidnapping, assaulting, or profiting from these deported migrants, including children. The Guardian claims that even Mexican law enforcement officers are guilty of committing crimes against these migrants. Little intervention on behalf of the affected migrants has gained traction. The American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations have called for an end to this policy through legal action. However, the U.S. government has been able to continue the policy’s implementation. In mid-2020, Human Rights Watch asked the U.S.’s DHS Inspector General to investigate the Remain in Mexico policy as it continues to put migrants in danger. However, today, we see nearly 70,000 asylum-seekers still living in precarious shelters near the U.S.-Mexico border, according to the Guardian.
Mexican Interior Minister Olga Sanchez has recently pledged that Mexico will discuss potential solutions with partners in the United States, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, according to the Mexican government. In this same speech, Sanchez emphasizes Mexico’s innocence in this crisis but asserts its duty to resolve this migrant situation. Though the Mexican government promises to devise a plan, no potential ideas or details have come forth. Sanchez claims that it is very likely that more migrants from South and Central America will travel through Mexico to try to enter the U.S. Given this prediction, an effective plan must be created and implemented soon before this crisis reaches an even greater magnitude.
Al Jazeera claims that in 2019, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador promised aid, job and education opportunities, and healthcare to these migrants. However, by mid-2019, when thousands of migrants had already been sent to shelters near the U.S.-Mexico border, none of these promises were kept. At that time, the Mexican government had no hand in helping these migrants, claiming Father Pat Murphy, a shelter director, even as shelter numbers were increasing. According to NBC, less than 5% of these migrants had access to an immigration lawyer by January 2020. By that same month, NBC claims thousands of asylum requests, which are very difficult to obtain, ended with removal orders or were terminated.
Throughout his term, President Trump has spoken crudely of migrants and made the U.S. legal immigration process even harder. In addition to this Remain in Mexico policy, President Trump has threatened DACA recipients and at one time instituted a travel ban on majority Muslim countries. President Trump’s unwelcoming attitude toward refugees, migrants, and asylum-seekers has led to U.S. migrant resettlement agencies closing or reevaluating their services, instilling fear in these migrant communities, and fueling xenophobic ideas among Americans.
With the incoming administration, U.S. President-elect Joe Biden commits to ending this Remain in Mexico policy, according to Reuters. This news source claims the number of migrants from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras in November 2020 was three times the number in July 2020 because of the incoming administration’s less restrictive immigration policies. According to the Guardian, President-elect Biden’s advisors plan to give migrants a legal path into the country while not alarming Americans. According to Al Jazeera, in December 2020, President-elect Biden pledged to hire additional judges to process asylum requests more quickly and acknowledged that it would take time to remedy this migrant crisis at the country’s border. Only time will tell if President-elect Biden will live up to his campaign promises and will deliver effective humanitarian aid and legal asylum access to this vulnerable population. Undoubtedly, the incoming administration will face continued pressure from migrant rights organizations to bring an end to this humanitarian crisis at the U.S. border.
This is a new era for Mexican leadership in an ever-evolving world. Mexico’s commitment to resolving this migrant crisis might be inspired by its upcoming position on the world stage. From 2021 to 2022, Mexico will hold a seat on the United Nations Security Council. With this position comes the opportunity to influence global security affairs. Surely, Mexico will use its status wisely to create lasting and meaningful change. Mexico is off to a good start with eyeing problems and committing to finding solutions in the new year. Hopefully, Mexico will live up to its promises and bring positive results to crises near and far from the country’s backdoor.
Ultimately, the Remain in Mexico policy forces migrants to live in unsanitary and unsafe conditions for an unknown amount of time. These conditions must violate human rights and be a concern for the United Nations or other organizations, yet these groups don’t seem to have the power to halt the policy’s implementation. This issue needs to be solved with human rights, security, and long-term peace in mind. However, it would be unwise to focus on only resolving this humanitarian crisis without also trying to remedy the economic, social, and political tensions in Central and South American countries that cause this migration in the first place. Creating and implementing practical and long-term solutions in these countries is necessary to keep transit and destination countries, including the U.S., from making their own reactive and often less migrant-centred migration policies.
Undoubtedly, this accelerating humanitarian crisis is at the U.S.’s doorstep yet requires coordinated efforts from the U.S. and Mexico. Mexico has not released a detailed plan yet. Still, it should live up to its promises of providing job and education opportunities, healthcare, and necessities to these migrants living in precarious situations. Nothing is being done to ensure these migrants’ safety and future currently, so a practical plan for proper housing in the U.S., an expeditious path to U.S. asylum status, and resettlement assistance are necessary. With the current U.S. migrant resettlement organizations’ respite caused by low incoming refugee numbers under the Trump Administration, these agencies and others could ideally aid these migrants in adjusting to U.S. society. Since the release of this Remain in Mexico policy, organizations have pushed for it to come to an end yet the U.S. government has stubbornly and unjustly held on. Though a fully open U.S. border is not the solution to this crisis, a suitable and quick immigration process is needed to provide security to this vulnerable population who have validated fears of remaining in their home countries. President Trump has tarnished the country’s reputation when it comes to welcoming migrants, and the U.S. must play a key role, along with Mexico, in resolving this humanitarian crisis.
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