After one year of “caravans”, causes of forced migration remain unaddressed

October 23 – October 19 marked one year since the “caravan” of asylum seekers set off through Mexico.  Since then, the hope for safety has been undercut by detention, restriction of mobility, and deportation as a result of agreements between the United States and regional governments.  Mexican government sources expect that as many as 80,000 people seeking asylum in Mexico, this calendar year.  Another 60,000 or so will be sent back to Mexico from the United States to await their US asylum requests in deplorable risky conditions under the so-called “Migration Protection Protocol.”  Additionally, Mexico has deported more than 94,000 people between January and August, and trapped at least 3,000 African migrants in Chiapas, as part of a military dragnet at the southern border with Guatemala.

On Thursday, Mick Mulvaney, acting chief of staff for the Trump administration, gave a press conference on US foreign policy and US economic assistance to Central America. In an uncanny echo of other recent machinations from the Trump administration around foreign assistance, Mulvaney acknowledged that the administration withheld aid from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador as a strategy to pressure these countries into cooperating with US efforts to limit asylum applicants in the US.  After signing asylum agreements with all three Central American countries, this week the Trump administration announced that aid would resume.

Despite all the efforts to limit migration, the underlying pressures forcing people to flee their countries and search for protection elsewhere have not changed.  Levels of poverty and gender-based violence in the region remain extraordinarily high. Women and girls living in poverty are especially vulnerable and, in countries like El Salvador where abortion is illegal, the same young girls are being disproportionately marginalized and convicted as criminals.

Meanwhile, the psychological impact of strict migration enforcement measures has been ignored, as families cope with separation, detention and uncertainty about their futures. Last year, Doctors Without Borders registered 2,315 mental health patients in Reynosa and Matamoros along the US/Mexico border; 45% of whom had been victims of some type of physical or sexual violence.  The troubling reality is that the majority of people who suffer violence along the migration route were forced to flee their countries for the same reason.

The impact on children is especially significant. Despite legal precedent in the United States that supposedly guarantees adequate care of minors, migrant children continue to suffer at the hands of policies that prioritize migrant status over the best interests of children.

Mexico, a country of mass deportations

Mexico has continued to put forward different options to address the “exodus” in neighboring countries. Last week, the government announced several initiatives as part of its comprehensive development plan, including: establishing customs to facilitate trade with the region, developing a common debt market in the region, establishing a power grid in Central America and sending gas from the Yucatan Peninsula.  The question still remains whether these initiatives will make a dent in the root causes of migration.

Despite these plans for development, Mexico continues to ramp up its enforcement and deportation operations.  In addition to deporting migrants from Central America, Mexico recently carried out an unprecedented, mass deportation of 311 Indian migrants.  Regional agreements have clearly influenced the Mexican government’s priority to focus solely on deportation, and not on protecting the rights of migrants currently residing in the country.

One year after the start of the current exodus, the causes sparked the first caravans continue to worsen, and policies being implemented by the US, Mexican, and Central American governments have resulted in grave violations of human rights.  Without addressing the root causes of migration, this deepening investment in detention and deportation will just drive more misery, rather than offering a durable shift in the flow of people who are fleeing from, and traveling through, the US-Mexico-Central America corridor.