The statistics are overwhelming. The United States government detained nearly 2 million migrants at the Mexican border during fiscal year 2021, while Border Patrol migrant “encounters” reached a new all-time high of 1.6 million.
But figures from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) confirm a trend that had begun to manifest itself in recent months. Mexicans again became the main group of undocumented people detained at the border: a total of 608,000 people.
Even considering that the numbers may exaggerate the total number of migrants, since the same person can be counted several times trying to enter the United States illegally, it is a phenomenon that can have important implications for United States immigration policy.
Until now, the main emphasis of the Biden administration had been focused on trying to remedy the structural causes that cause migration from the Northern Triangle, that is, from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, which until recent months represented the main groups of undocumented immigrants found at the border with Mexico.
The White House promised a $4 billion dollar budget to address a number of root causes including lack of economic development, poverty, marginalization, gang violence, etc. For fiscal year 2022 alone, President Biden asked Congress for a budget of $861 million for Central America, in addition to the $600 million he has already provided in international assistance to the region.
But perhaps, in an acknowledgment that Mexico itself should also be a central point of attention due to its nature of expelling migrants, Biden pledged in a letter to his Mexican colleague Andrés Manuel López Obrador to work together to expand cooperation, especially by increasing investments in southern Mexico and northern Central America.
The decision to view southern Mexico and northern Central America as the same region for migration purposes is important. Latin America continues to suffer the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. But as with vulnerable communities within the United States, the impact of the pandemic has been disproportionate and more disadvantageous for communities already living in poverty. Looking for opportunities in the United States is a natural impulse.
But it cannot be discounted either that one of the causes of greater migration may be the perception that the immigration policy of the United States on the border is more hospitable and less hostile than that existing during the Trump era, even when in reality the Biden administration is deporting the vast majority of migrants detained at the border.
In any case, the Biden administration must rethink its immigration policy with its southern neighbor at a time when it began to negotiate the resumption of its “Stay in Mexico” program, so that migrants from other countries wait for their asylum cases in Mexican territory.
Although the US president has little room for maneuver, due to his meager majority in congress, the aid requested for Mexico in fiscal year 2022 is clearly insufficient and does not reflect the scale of the needs to mitigate migratory pressures from its southern neighbor in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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