The United States imposes additional barriers for asylum seekers while Mexico and Central America ramp up militarized borders.

The Bukele administration in El Salvador launched Border Patrol efforts soon after signing a “security agreement” with the US Secretary for Homeland Security, Kevin McAleenan. Screenshot from @elsalvadorcom via Twitter.

September 17, 2019 –A recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court clears the way for the Trump Administration to further restrict asylum by applying a new rule, that had previously been blocked by lower courts. The rule requires migrants entering from the US southern border to first pursue asylum in a transit country, and have that application rejected, prior to seeking protection in the U.S. This means that the United States can no longer be a first country of asylum for individuals and families fleeing violence. The Supreme Court’s decision will significantly impact asylum processes in Mexico and Central America as the number of applications soars. The ruling will have severe repercussions considering that neither Mexico nor Central America can offer safe or stable conditions for asylum seekers. .As the  U.S. government essentially dumps its asylum responsibilities onto Mexico, the consequences will be dire. Mexico’s asylum system is already overwhelmed and lacks the capacity to process the expected surge in applications: 12,000 of the 37,612 asylum cases currently being processed by COMAR, Mexico’s refugee agency, are currently in suspension or other legal limbo.  COMAR officials have already warned that the federal budget allocated for 2020 will not be sufficient to address the country’s new reality.

Meanwhile, the “Migrant Protection Protocols” (MPP) program, under which asylum seekers pursuing admission to the United States from Mexico have to wait outside of the U.S. during their immigration proceedings, is now operational and is expanding to other parts of the border. The first implementation of the program taking place in Laredo, Texas is being carried out in tents, where people attend asylum hearings remotely through a video conference before a judge at an immigration court in San Antonio. Most asylum seekers are navigating the process without legal representation and must return to Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico to wait for their next hearing. 

El Salvador’s contention plan develops

 The actions at the US border and in Mexico are pieces of a larger puzzle of initiatives  to contain and limit human mobility in Mexico and Central America. A few weeks ago, El Salvador’s government led by President Nayib Bukele officially launched “border patrols” , a move that echoes the Trump administration’s militarization of borders. El Salvador has incorporated these patrols in various points of entry such as airports and other crossing points, where officials are verifying that Salvadoran people have legal permission to exit the country and that foreigners have entered the country with authorization. The cooperation from Bukelele’s administration is disheartening and can only contribute to human tragedies and corrupt and criminal behavior.

Meanwhile, Mexico continues to tout the success of its own immigration contention efforts, a plan hastily implemented after threats from Trump to implement tariffs on all Mexican imports. Last week, Mexican Foreign Secretary, Marcelo Ebrard, met with the Trump Administration in Washington, D.C. to share the results from Mexico’s efforts to contain and dissuade migrants. Following the meeting, Ebrard made clear that Mexico will not become a “third safe country.” Nevertheless, it is clear that Mexico has ceded to many of the Trump administration’s demands with this shift to a get-tough approach to reduce the flow of Central American migrants to the U.S. Mexico’s practices are both disappointing and contradictory. Even as the Mexican government expresses concern for the rights of Mexican immigrants in the U.S., it continues oppressing migrants from Central America, the Carribbean, and other parts of the world who are traveling through Mexican territory. 

In response to the agreements between Mexico and the United States, the United Nations’ Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, condemned Mexico’s practices for leaving thousands of migrants in vulnerable situations. The Mexican government has dismissed Bachelet’s concerns by arguing that the country was unprepared to receive thousands of people, including young children and teenagers along with other vulnerable groups.  

Attacks against humanitarian aid and rights defenders in Mexico

Mexico’s containment plan is also affecting migrant shelters. So far this year there have been several incidents jeopardizing the safety of shelters around the country, including a recent attack on September 11that the Sagrada Familia shelter located in Tlaxcala. According to the shelter, its facilities were burned and robbed. As a response, several organizations have issued statements demanding that federal and state officials hold the perpetrators accountable, and step up efforts to protect the migrant population and its allies. On behalf of Alianza Americas, we too condemn these acts and support the demands of our allies. 

ECLAC Plan commits to making a difference 

 The UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) presented the Central America-Mexico Comprehensive Development Plan to the governments of Guatemala and El Salvador. The plan encourages collaboration between 16 agencies, donors and United Nations programs to create sustainable and just living conditions that do not force individuals and families to migrate as a result of violent situations. The Plan does not focus on migration policies, rather takes up the conditions that expel people from their countries of origin and the harmful effects of social inequality. Whether the plan can move from paper to reality will depend on the commitment of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico, along with continued support from the United Nations.