By Sylvia Longmire
Columnist, In Homeland Security
For decades, the main border security concern regarding illegal immigration stemmed from Mexican migrants—specifically younger men traveling alone. In approximately 2012, the demographic of border crossers began to change as conditions in parts of Central America worsened.
The majority of illegal border crossers started coming from the Northern Triangle of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. However, attempts by the U.S. government to stem the latest surge of illegal immigration from these countries is shifting the demographics once again, with potentially unexpected consequences.
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Over the past several months, the Trump administration has been engaging in various migration agreements with Northern Triangle countries, as well as Mexico, to prevent as many migrants as possible from reaching the U.S.-Mexico border in the first place. Largely, the U.S. government has threatened to withhold economic and security aid to these countries — or in the case of Mexico, levy devastating tariffs — if they did not do more to prevent northbound migration. It appears that the strategy has been effective, with a significant drop in southwest border apprehensions since May 2019.
Migration Protection Protocols
The Trump administration has also tried to battle illegal immigration through policy, namely the controversial Migration Protection Protocols (MPP). This program requires all asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico for their immigration hearing dates. In the past, they have been generally released on their own recognizance in the U.S. until their hearing, which sometimes can be as long as years in the future. Many asylum-seekers find this to be an untenable situation, considering their distance from home and lack of social or financial resources in northern Mexico. Thousands have returned back to Central America as a result and given up on their asylum requests.
As this latest immigration crisis has progressed, the situation involving Mexican migrants has been largely overlooked. U.S. immigration policy and international negotiations have almost completely focused on preventing mass migration from the Northern Triangle.
As such, those policies have had very little bearing on preventing illegal immigration by Mexican nationals. For the first time in approximately seven years, there are more Mexican immigrants being apprehended at the southwest border than those from Central America.
Migrants Camping Out
According to The Washington Post, thousands of Mexican adults and children have been camping out in lines at U.S. border crossings, sleeping in tents while waiting to apply for asylum at ports of entry. In sharp contrast to apprehensions of Central American migrants, the number of Mexican adults arrested along the border climbed by roughly 25 percent from the end of July to the end of September. The number of Mexican family groups taken into custody has also surged.
This makes things incredibly complicated for the fragile agreement between President Trump and Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador. In exchange for Trump holding off on levying a 25 percent tariff on Mexican goods, López Obrador agreed to deploy as many as 6,000 national guard troops to both of its borders and throughout the country to prevent northbound migration by Central Americans.
He also agreed to tolerate the U.S. government’s “safe third country” rule, which says that Central American migrants must request asylum in the first safe country they reach before arriving at the U.S. border—meaning Mexico. As a result, the Mexican government has been processing thousands of asylum requests from Central American migrants.
Problem for DHS
The problem for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) stems from the fact that Mexican authorities cannot detain Mexican nationals en route to the southwest border, and asylum seekers from Mexico cannot be returned to the country they are fleeing.
In other words, Mexican nationals cannot be enrolled in the MPP program, and must be added to the one million-plus backlog of asylum cases in U.S. immigration courts. The “safe third country” policy is also irrelevant.
U.S. immigration officials have said the new migration surge of Mexican nationals is a result of seasonal labor needs in the U.S. and is nothing to be concerned about. This would be accurate if he was only referring to younger single males being apprehended.
However, the number of Mexican families and children being apprehended or requesting asylum along the border has also increased. The Post indicated that several administration officials said Customs and Border Protection is unsure how to respond if the Mexican migration wave continues to build.