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Immigration Politics – Trump’s Mexico Strategy and Its Ramifications


The Immigration Crisis

The United States of America faces a huge immigration crisis at its southern border. Families of migrants from Central American countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras – the region known as the Northern Triangle of Central America, enter Mexico through its shared border with Guatemala and make their way across the country to reach the southern border of the U.S. They turn themselves over to the U.S. Border Patrol, and seek asylum within the walls of the country. The number of Central American migrants has increased dramatically over the last few years, with almost 100,000 migrants being apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border every month in 2019. The fiercely anti-immigration President Donald Trump had promised to solve the migrant crisis through the construction of a wall on the southern border of the U.S. in his electoral campaign. His actual solution involved negotiating a deal with strategically located Mexico and passing the migrant crisis baton over to their borders. This deal, however, has its own ramifications and does little to ‘solve’ the actual crisis of immigration. 


The U.S.-Mexico Deal 

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of Mexico announced in June 2019 that they would comply with U.S. demands to enforce stronger security at the Guatemala-Mexico border to prevent the entry of migrants from Central America. This announcement came after Trump threatened to impose tariffs on Mexcian imports that could potentially cripple Mexico’s economy. With the economic threat looming over their head, there was little Mexico could do but comply. Along with securing its borders with the help of the National Guard, Mexico also agreed to the Migrant Protection Protocols – a Trump administration program that sends migrants seeking entry into the U.S. back to Mexico to await their immigration hearing. Since the U.S. Courts are overwhelmed with immigration hearings, this process could take years, meaning that the U.S. can now send any asylum-seeking migrants back to Mexico indefinitely. Under the Migrant Protection Protocols, Mexico is obliged to provide for the migrants, by offering jobs, healthcare, and education. 


Mexico’s Dilemma

President Obrador’s administrative policies have always tilted towards the left – be it the cancellation of a multibillion-dollar airport construction project, the regulation of the oil industry of Mexico, or the heavy crackdown on corruption and violence. His policy with regards to migration was also one that vowed to address the ‘root causes of the problem’ and provide humanitarian visas and employment to all Central American migrants coming to Mexico. 

His ambitious plans, however, were thwarted by President Trump’s arm-twisting moves that placed Obrador in a terse situation. In an attempt to save Mexico’s dwindling economy, as well as his own image in front of his countrymen, Obrador was forced to give in to Trump’s demands. The Mexican public, fed up with the inflow of immigrants, welcomed the President’s move that saved them from potential tariffs, as well as imposed stricter National Guard defences at the border. However, Obrador managed to back himself up into a corner by signing the latest immigration deal.

Firstly, according to the Migrant Protection Protocols, Mexico will have to host almost all migrants seeking entry in the U.S. until their immigration cases are resolved, and that will put a lot of pressure on the Mexican government and economy. Unlike the U.S., Mexico is ill-equipped to house a large number of migrants without adversely affecting its own citizens – thereby resulting in a plummet in Obrador’s popularity rate. 

Secondly, by complying with U.S. demands after the threat of tariffs, Obrador might have started a trend of compliance to economic coercion by the U.S., giving it an edge over Mexico. As many critics have pointed out, the U.S. could, in the future, use the threat of tariffs to get Mexico to cave on certain issues such as agreeing to a ‘safe third country’ agreement. 

Thirdly, the deal with the U.S. strays away from Mexico’s original plan to deal with the migrant crisis. Instead of a long-term approach involving regional cooperation, it is a short-term policy of deterrence, that will not keep migrants away from the U.S. or Mexico for a long period of time and will not solve the actual problem.


The Actual Problem of Migration

While Trump’s deal with Mexico might keep migrants from the U.S. for a brief period, the migrant crisis is far from solved. The main reason for the increase in migrants from Central American countries is widespread violence, poverty, and unemployment. Unlike the Trump administration’s belief, migrants do not come to the United States out of mere want of a better job and prospects. Most of these families as fleeing kidnappings, killings, and gang violence in their home countries. Therefore, to call them refugees in search of safe asylum would not be a stretch. These migrants turn themselves over to the Border Patrol and often seek asylum under the 1951 Convention Relating to Status of Refugees. A long-term solution to the crisis must involve engagement with the home countries of the migrants, and an attempt to restore their economies and law and order. This would ensure that the migrants are not forced to flee from their homes in the first place. A step in that direction was the Comprehensive Development Plan proposed by the government of Mexico that advocated for around $30 billion investment in the development of Central American countries. 

While both Trump and Obrador push for different immigration strategies in their own countries, the international arena demands a cooperative, future-oriented approach towards the problem of migration from the Central American countries. Any other deterrence-aimed solution pandering to the internal politics of a country will only succeed in prolonging the crisis, not solving it. 


Akanksha Mishra is a student of political science and international relations at Ashoka University. 

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