On Mexican Reactions to New U.S. Immigration Policies

By Dan Cadman, February 24, 2017

Much is being made of the insistence by Mexico's Foreign Minister, Luis Videgaray Caso, that Mexico will have nothing to do with the recent policy memoranda issued by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly that direct immigration agents to return to Mexico third country nationals who entered the United States illegally via our southern neighbor.

As my colleague Kausha Luna pointed out, the United States already has in place a bilateral agreement with Canada to the same effect. Of course, the impact on Mexico would be much more significant given the dramatic disparity between the volume of illegal crossings at our northern and southern frontiers — but in some ways, that begs the issue.

While it is true that in the past couple of years Mexico has done a much better job of policing its own southern border to prevent illegal crossings of Central Americans (or migrants from many other nations) coming up through Guatemala, it is also true that, in general, once they have entered, they are encouraged to move northward and pass through Mexico and into the United States because Mexico doesn't want the burden of having to maintain them. Sometimes Mexico even grants them temporary transit passes for this purpose.

Mexico also blithely ignores its own responsibility as a signatory to the international convention on refugees, leaving it to the United States to handle such claims — again, because Mexico doesn't want to be burdened with the potential problem of thousands of Central American, Haitian, Cuban, and even African and Chinese migrants living within its borders as refugees or asylees.

One can certainly understand the impulses of a national political leader such as Videgaray to speak for the wounded honor and pride of Mexicans in the way that he has. But Mexico has much to lose in any spitting contest with the United States.

In the first place, there is the pressing issue of billions of dollars worth of remittances sent to Mexico from the United States each and every year. The loss of that revenue stream would be incalculable to Mexico's economy.

Second, there is the fact that Mexico also receives many millions of dollars in direct and indirect foreign aid. In one of his executive orders, President Trump has already ordered that the total amount be calculated and itemized; intransigence on the part of Mexico in taking some responsibility for the way it has allowed itself to be used as a welcome mat would surely put those funds at risk as well.

Finally, in a serious standoff with U.S. officials over illegal migration from, or via, Mexico, there is the possibility that the president could order a freeze of the issuance of visas or border crossing cards to Mexican citizens, many of whom travel daily to the United States in pursuit of cross-border trade and business. While no doubt the American side of the economy would also suffer from such an act, Mexico could not long sustain such a freeze. The interconnections of commerce are entirely too important to the survival of its northern states and their communities.

It's to be hoped, then, that whatever the hype may be publicly and in the media, behind the scenes in the meetings with the U.S. secretaries of DHS and State, more sober and productive dialogues are going on.