The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced this week that it will be forcing asylum seekers who attempt to cross the U.S. border through Southern Texas to return to Mexico and await ruling from an immigration judge to determine their eligibility for asylum.
This plan, dubbed the “Remain in Mexico” policy by U.S. media, is seeking to reduce the volume of asylum seekers at its busiest point in the Rio Grande Valley, which separates the U.S. from Mexico. Here, thousands of Central American migrants are attempting to cross dangerous waters on a daily basis to get to U.S. land. Both the Trump administration and DHS have received intense scrutiny for the treatment of these migrants after pictures of a drowned father and daughter surfaced last month.
The policy is set to send thousands of individuals and families back into the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, where crime and kidnapping are rampant. Tamaulipas is listed by the U.S. Department of State as a “Do Not Travel” area because “violent crime, such as homicide, kidnapping, carjacking, and robbery, is widespread.” However, a backlog of cases is likely to result in wait times of at least several months for people to go through the immigration court system. To make matters worse, because those being forced to wait across the border are not eligible for U.S. legal assistance, they face difficulty in meeting with lawyers (if they even have the resources to afford one).
The increased buck-passing from the U.S. is resulting in strained diplomatic relations with Mexico, who do not feel they are equipped to face the responsibility of processing migrants and keeping them safe. Mexican Ambassador to the U.S., Martha Bárcena, made her opinions known in a public statement last week, saying that increasing the speed of the immigration process is essential because migrants cannot simply wait for years in Mexico for U.S. action. She also suggested that these policies are not designed to create a “safe third country” for temporary relocation, but rather are aimed at sending all asylum seekers back to their countries of origin.
Despite these concerns, Mexico is being given little choice in the matter, as threats to place tariffs on exports still exist if Mexico does not keep reducing the number of migrants going through Mexico to the U.S. border. Despite the number of people seeking asylum at the U.S. border going down in the past month, more humanitarian problems are likely to follow. A recent poll conducted by the Washington Post and leading Mexican newspaper Reforma found that 64 percent of Mexicans thought migrants were a “burden” and took away benefits from citizens. This extension of anti-immigration thought is likely to cause many future conflicts in Central America. It is clear that diplomacy must advance progressively in order to quickly process asylum seekers and facilitate safe environments for them in the interim.