Mexico avoids tariffs in exchange for increasing migration control and accepting the USA to continue returning asylum seekers

In the midst of migration negotiations of USA and Mexico, Mexican authorities conducted a detention operation of a group of people who entered Mexican territory on June 5. Authorities allowed the group to move forward during the morning, to be intercepted at noon as they were passing by Metapa de Dominguez, Chiapas. Photo: Karen Vanessa Perez Martinez, from the Jesuit Refugee Service, in Tapachula.

June 11, 2019 On Friday, June 7, Mexico was in constant tension between maintaining the commitments acquired with the United States onmigration matters and the internal pressure to implement them. In México, migration policy will continue to be strongly influenced by militarization, detention, deportation of migrant people and asylum seekers, in a context of violation of human rights.

By committing to improve migration control, Mexico will intensify the policy of militarizing migration routes in the country. Among the first announcements after the agreement with the United States, we find building three military barracks located in the coast and North of Chiapas and deploying, as of Monday 10, 6 thousand members of the National Guard in the southern border.

These migration flow contention actions will have a strong impact on the number of detentions, as we have seen over the last few weeks. In addition, detention conditions for migrant people will get worse, since they will be in contexts of overcrowding, lack of access to rights and they will suffer from violations to their right to due process. The challenge for Mexico lies in how to increase detentions and deportations, guaranteeing and protecting human rights of migrant people and asylum seekers. Those are its international commitments.   

An imminent collapse in the northern border of Mexico

Another tension that the Mexican government will face is how to implement an integration policy, either temporary or permanent, for foreigners, that will allow people to live in Mexico in a context of xenophobia. The northern border of Mexico, in practice, is and will continue to be a “third safe country”, with a deficient local infrastructure and precarious humanitarian assistance to assist thousands of people that await in Mexico, for a resolution to their asylum requests in the United States under the “Remain in Mexico” policy. By the end of the year, it is expected, that close to 60 thousand people requesting asylum in the United States will be waiting in Mexican territory.

This situation will be the same as in the southern border, with thousands of people deciding to stay and rebuild their lives and they will only have a migration document that will allow them to be mobile in five states.

Migration will not be solved by negotiating it under the pressure of imposing tariffs, or with militarization at the border. These actions will only make people continue to flee and migrating under conditions of greater vulnerability, with drug trafficking networks and looking for new ways, somewhat dangerous, of entering the country. With the bilateral agreement between Mexico and the United States, the migration policy of the administration of López Obrador has been defined, contradicting the announcements of the first months of his mandate.

In practice, the López Obrador administration was already taking measures to stop the Central American “exodus”, which are included in the joint declaration between USA and Mexico. One day after the agreement became public, The New York Times reported that Mexico had already accepted to implement these immigration measures, months before the recent tariff threat from President Trump. According to the publication, based on the declaration of Mexican officials, the agreement includes measures that Mexico had previously agreed on. One of those measures is the “Remain in Mexico” policy, announced in December 2018, and which is being challenged at a court in San Francisco.

Presence of US troops in Guatemala

In contrast with the pressure from the United States towards Mexico, a different strategy is observed in Central America. During the week, diverse versions were heard in terms of the presence of US troops in Guatemala in tasks related to migration control. This was originated by different press reports and the visit from the interim National Security Secretary of the United States, Kevin McAleenan, last week. Versions varied over the week. On Monday, June 3, the Ministry of Defense of Guatemala confirmed the presence of US military troops in Huehuetenango, Guatemala, with the purpose of stopping the Central American exodus of people. He explained that US troops are in the country, just as they have been for the past fifteen years. The Minister of Foreign Affairs described the operations of the troops as “humanitarian”. On Tuesday, June 4 president Jimmy Morales explained that it was a mere proposal. This was because the Guatemalan Congress would have to authorize foreign troops to enter the country.

The truth is that currently, there is presence of over 1000 members of the US army in Huehuetenango, Guatemala, in tasks related to the provision of humanitarian aid in contexts of disasters . There is an announcement that a similar program is planned in the department of San Marcos, bordering with the State of Chiapas in Mexico. The collaboration and presence of north-American troops in Guatemala require the attention and constant monitoring of civil society. It is important to remember that president Trump announced the decision of suspending aid to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, as a penalty for their inability to control migration flows. Apparently, military assistance has not been suspended.