Mexico’s Determinate Role in US Immigration Policy

After the recent trinational meeting between the US, Mexico, and Canada, a US government official emphasized that this was a domestic policy discussion. One assumes the official was attempting to emphasize that in this international discussion with neighbors, the Biden Administration was seeking to promote its domestic policy agenda. In reality, when it comes to migration, the US and Mexico are in an abusive relationship where Mexico facilitates US immigration policy while taking the hits.

Mexico’s role is so key, that it is now the determining factor in the proposed changes to US immigration policy that the Biden Administration seeks to implement as Covid-19 based restrictions end.

Getting Mexico to do the dirty work of US immigration policy is not new. Under the Trump Administration Mexico implemented a number of “domestic” policies to restrict the access of migrants and asylum seekers to the US southern border. When the Mexican National Guard was first formed, it was sent to the Guatemalan border to stem the migrant flow in 2019. That policy was implemented because Trump threatened to impose new tariffs if Mexico did not do more to stop migration. After that policy change, one Mexican official said to me, “We have now proven that Mexico can control the flow of migrants to the US. There is a cat we can’t put back in the bag.”

That official was correct, and the relationship has continued down this path. When the Trump Administration implemented the “Remain in Mexico” policy – forcing asylum seekers to stay in Mexico while their cases were processed – Mexico allowed them to stay.

When Covid-19 hit, the US implemented Title 42, a policy that pushed migrants, who entered the US without permission, back into Mexico before they could request political asylum. Mexico allowed the US to do this, even though there is a Mexican law that prohibits the country from receiving non-Mexican deportees. Technically those “expelled” under Title 42 are not deported.

Mexico has had a creeping policy of allowing the US to expel people from other countries into Mexico. At present, Mexico accepts nationals from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba and Haiti.

In preparation for the end of the Covid-19 immigration restrictions, the US has introduced a new app-based system requiring those seeking entry to apply for asylum get an appointment while outside of the United States. As a result of this recent change, asylum seekers are waiting in Mexico as they try to secure an US appointment.

And this is the policy before Title 42 ends! Once the Covid-19 restrictions are lifted this May, the US has proposed new regulations that would demand even more of Mexico. It would consider migrants who have passed through Mexico without requesting asylum, to be presumed ineligible for asylum in the US, putting the asylum burden even more firmly on Mexico.

The only way this cascade of changes work is if Mexico facilitates the process by being a holding/deportation ground for those who want asylum in the United States. These policies will undoubtedly be challenged in US courts.

The US needs to reform its immigration laws. The current piecemeal approach is not coherent policy. It is barely intelligible. Until the US develops a functional, rights respecting overall immigration policy – not just for asylum seekers but for foreigners who want jobs and US companies who need them – this chaos will continue.

Since the cat was let out of the bag, Mexico’s acquiescence to US demands facilitates this disfunction. The US needs to stop considering Mexico an extension of its domestic immigration policy. But that will only happen when Mexico demands the respect it deserves and stops serving as a staging area for US disfunction.

First published in, the Mexican paper La Reforma’s English language site, 2/27/23.

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