On January 28, 2019, the Catholic News Service (CNS) reported that the government of Mexico had promised "humanitarian visas" to migrants making their way north through the port of Ciudad Hidalgo, on Mexico's border with Guatemala. The visas were good for one year and "allow them to freely travel through Mexico, work in the country and claim social benefits such as health care and education."
Fox News reported on January 31, however, that this visa plan is being suspended. This raises the specter of another humanitarian disaster, as another migrant caravan makes its way to the U.S. border.
The Wall Street Journal reported on January 29 that 12,600 migrants, mostly nationals of Honduras, had applied for the humanitarian visas since January 16, and that 4,000 had received them. That policy was a two-edged sword as it related to migration to the United States. On the one hand, it made Mexico a more attractive country for resettlement of Central American migrants. As the New York Times noted in a January 25, 2019, article captioned "Mexico Moves to Encourage Caravan Migrants to Stay and Work":
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's policies are already proving to be a magnet for migrants, who are finding it harder to enter the United States given President Trump's antipathy toward immigration. A migrant caravan heading to Mexico from Central America — the largest ever — has already swollen to over 12,000 people, with many saying they intend to remain in Mexico, at least for the time being.
Before I continue, consider that last statistic: 12,000 people in the latest caravan, the largest ever. Why would it be the largest ever? Maybe because of a lack of response by a sclerotic Washington establishment that relies more on talking points than facts as they relate to the crisis that is occurring along the border. But I digress.
On the other hand, Mexico's new migration policies could also have encouraged more migrants to undertake the trek through Mexico on their way to their ultimate destination, the United States. Again, as the Times noted, "these policies could ultimately put pressure on the Mexico-United States border, as most in the caravan eventually hope to figure out a way to cross into the United States."
I just returned from the Southwest border in western Arizona and eastern California. This is a portion of the border where, by and large, there are physical barriers to entry, and those barriers have been effective in stopping a surge in drugs and illegal immigration. In 2006, before those barriers were erected, 138,438 migrants were apprehended in the Yuma Sector of the Border Patrol, which as the Washington Times reported in August 2017 has jurisdiction over 126 miles of the border. As that paper noted:
Just a year later, the number dropped to 37,992, and by 2008, when the fencing in Yuma had been finished, the number was just 8,363, or just 1 percent of the total [apprehensions along the Southwest border].
In 2016 the number was more than 14,000, or about 3 percent of the southwestern border total.
By FY 2018, that number had grown to 26,244, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) statistics.
The demographics of that population has changed over time. Previously, more than 90 percent of all apprehensions were single adult males from Mexico, who could be quickly repatriated under the expedited removal provisions in section 235 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) . By contrast, according to CBP, in FY 2018, 14,554 of the apprehensions in Yuma Sector were family units, that is children with parents or guardians (or claimed parents or guardians), and 5,424 were unaccompanied alien children (UACs). The processing time for those migrants can be up to 10 times greater than for Mexican nationals, straining Border Patrol resources. That is why the president is seeking $800 million in urgent humanitarian assistance.
I was told that certain Border Patrol facilities looked like the local Costco, filled with diapers, snacks, and hygiene products. Those things cost money, money the American people would likely want to see the Border Patrol spend on, well, patrolling the border. And, as Sheriff Leon Wilmot of Yuma County told me, this has turned the Border Patrol into a "humanitarian organization", not to mention "a transportation hub for the cartels".
These are particularly vulnerable populations, as the Center most recently explained last week. That report placed the fault for this increase squarely where it belongs — on weaknesses in current U.S. immigration law that lure these aliens to the United States:
A huge percentage of the individuals now being apprehended and processed are women and children. This is because they see asylum loopholes, catch-and-release policies, and a troubled nation confronting questions about the detention — or separation — of families as working in their favor. Unfortunately, this has placed the United States into the position of inadvertently acting as a co-conspirator in the smuggling of these most vulnerable human beings by the thousands, across hostile terrain in the hands of criminals and cartels.
Once at the border, many of those migrants are placing themselves and their children in even greater danger by skipping orderly processing of their credible fear claims at the ports of entry, opting instead for the much more dangerous path of fording those barriers. Local police told me that parents have dropped their children off of the walls, and sent them underwater and through razor wire to get into the United States. Due to lack of detention space, they are processed and released, after receiving necessary medical treatment. Expensive medical treatment, which again draws on the resources of Border Patrol and local border communities.
The Mexican visa program, at least potentially, could have slowed the process of those individuals toward the United States, and protected them to some degree from the predations of local officials. Third-country migrants with one-year visas could potentially work in Mexico and make asylum claims there. Now, even that orderly process is apparently gone.
To some degree, the Mexican government cannot be blamed, except to the extent that their politicians encourage the irregular migration of third-country nationals through the country. For example, in a January 28 opinion piece in the Washington Post, Roberto Velasco Alvarez, the spokesman of the Mexican Secretariat of Foreign Affairs, explained:
Our administration's new migratory plan is a far-reaching shift from that of our predecessors. Mexico is the first country to adjust its migratory policy as recommended by the new United Nations Global Compact for Migration. In accordance with this international agreement adopted by more than 160 countries, Mexico's position will no longer be one of migration deterrence and blockage.
Put another way, "Come on in." That doesn't mean, however, that those migrants can, or will, stay.
There is no indication that the discontinuance of humanitarian visas by Mexico coincides with its new position of non-deterrence and its refusal to block migrants from transiting through the country north. Assuming that it doesn't, and there's no reason to believe that it would, this opens the door to migrants to flow through Mexico to come to the United States. More vulnerable migrants will enter through that door, undertake that hazardous journey, and risk their children's lives. Look for a new flow of Central American migrants (as well as those nationals from further afield), new customers for savage, ruthless smugglers, more money for cartels, and fresh attempts by parents to use their children as pawns and props to enter the United States permanently and illegally.
James Eayrs once wrote: "History may not repeat itself. But it rhymes." In my almost 27 years of practicing immigration law, and in surveying the various iterations of poorly thought-out immigration policy, this is certainly true. It always goes like this: Illegal immigration is recognized as a problem. Laws are tightened up, and illegal immigration falls. Critics complain about the so-called "unfairness" or "cold heartedness" of those policies (remember "Fix 96"?), and they are either changed or ignored. Illegal immigration increases. The dangers of massive increases in illegal immigration become clear. Immigration crackdowns ensue.
The current political situation has not really flipped that script, but rather sent it in a completely different direction. Donald Trump was elected president in no small part thanks to the non-enforcement of the laws by the Obama administration. True to his campaign promises (unlike many career politicians), the president is currently engaged in an attempt to crack down on illegal immigration, both for the interests of American workers and for the migrants themselves. Opposing the president is good politics in certain quarters, however, and so his warnings are ignored and his motives are called into question by Democratic members of Congress, sections of the media, and certain organizations (including in some shocking instances, the courts). This opposition to the president metastasizes into disdain and, in some cases, outright hostility toward the agencies of the United States government charged (ironically by Congress) with enforcing the law.
Who suffers? Everybody. American workers, American society, law enforcement, furloughed government workers, and the migrants themselves. And it looks like it will only get worse.