Reflections on 'Remain in Mexico', Part 2

Local crime rates are no argument against MPP

By George Fishman on January 26, 2022

Read Part 1

During the MPP’s heyday, Human Rights First alleged that:

There are more than one hundred and ten publicly reported cases of rape, kidnapping, sexual exploitation, assault, and other violent crimes against asylum seekers returned to Mexico under MPP. ... These human rights abuses are the predictable result of returning refugees to dangerous areas, where they are targeted because of their race, gender, nationality, and status as migrants.

Wait a second, returned migrants are targeted in Mexico because they are Hispanic?! In any event, as I mentioned in Part 1, we incorporated into the MPP a process for aliens to demonstrate a likelihood of persecution or torture if returned to Mexico. Further, federal courts “have been consistent that ... fears [of generalized violence] are not a cognizable basis for asylum”.

And the level of danger is relative. As we know all too well, in 2020 the number of murders in the United States skyrocketed, reversing much of the historic decline that had occurred during Bill Clinton’s presidency (in part thanks to then-Sen. Biden’s “Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act” — which Biden has claimed cut America’s violent crime rate in half). As the New York Times reported: “The United States experienced its biggest one-year increase on record in homicides in 2020 ... with some cities hitting record highs. ... [T]here were an additional 4,901 homicides in 2020 compared with the year before [a 27 percent increase], the largest leap since national records started in 1960.”

Unfortunately, the situation did not improve in 2021. It now appears to have gotten even worse. The Council on Criminal Justice reported in October that “[t]he number of homicides during the first three quarters of 2021 was 4% greater than during the same period in 2020 [i]n the 22 cities studied. ... The homicide rise of 2020 has continued well into 2021, [only] at a slower pace.” And just a few weeks ago, CNN reported that:

More than two-thirds of the country's 40 most populous cities saw more homicides last year than in 2020, according to a CNN analysis of police department data. Ten of those cities recorded more homicides in 2021 than any other year on record [Louisville, Philadelphia, Austin, Columbus, Indianapolis, Portland, Memphis, Milwaukee, Albuquerque, and Tucson]. ... Many cities have seen homicides reach near-record highs in the past year. Chicago police investigated 797 last year, the most since 1996. ... Homicides were also up by 12% in Los Angeles from 2020 and 4% in New York. ... These increases are not isolated to any region. ... [A]lmost every major US city saw more homicides in both 2020 and 2021 than in 2019. Homicides rose sharply in the summer of 2020 and have remained at high levels since.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney exclaimed after his city surpassed its annual homicide record that "[i]t's terrible to every morning get up and have to go look at the numbers and then look at the news and see the stories. It's just crazy. It's just crazy and this needs to stop."

Interestingly, Mexico is experiencing the opposite trend — its murder rate is decreasing. Australia's Institute for Economics and Peace found that the homicide rate in Mexico decreased by 1.3 percent in 2020 (and its violent crime rate decreased by 13.3 percent). Further, “[t]he monthly rate[] of homicide[s] ... peaked in July 2018 and [has] gradually declined since. Similarly, the rates of ... violent crime peaked in mid-2019. The improvements recorded in 2020 are significant as they suggest a new trend after the sharp increases recorded since 2015.”

It is true that in 2020 the Mexican states bordering the U.S. either didn’t see a change in their homicide rates (Baja) or saw an increase (Sonora increasing by 14.3 percent). But the level of violence in Mexican border towns must be seen in context. Statista reports that in 2020, the homicide rate in Tijuana was 84.8 per 100,000 persons and in Reynosa it was 42, placing them among the 50 most dangerous cities in the world. But Statista also reported that the homicide rate in St. Louis was 65.8, in Baltimore was 55.5, in New Orleans was 40.1, and in Detroit was 39.7, also placing them as among the 50 most dangerous cities in the world. Incidentally, the spate of violence in American cities did not deter President Biden’s State Department from recommending that Afghan and Iraqi refugees be resettled in Chicago, Baltimore, St. Louis, and Philadelphia!

It is certainly controversial to compare murder rates in American and Latin American cities. In 2017, Cedric Richmond, then the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, angrily stated at a Judiciary Committee meeting that “[w]e’re going to lose all civility in this committee if [we] compare New Orleans to Guatemala. ... It’s not appropriate. It’s insensitive. And it’s nothing more than traditional white privilege of ‘let me criticize a minority city.’” It is not immediately apparent to me why it is illegitimate or an exercise in white privilege to note that certain American cities have murder rates among the highest in the world. In fact, I might say that minority residents of those cities have the dubious “privilege” of having to live in places overrun by violence.

In any event, the danger that deadly violence poses to illegal aliens in the United States is further highlighted by looking at how many Hispanics aged 15-24 (reflecting the predominant demographic of illegal migrants) are being murdered right here in the U.S. The National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that in 2019, Hispanic males aged 15-19 had a death rate from homicide of 12.4 per 100,000 persons, compared to 3.2 for white males — almost four times higher (388 percent). Hispanic males aged 20-24 had a death rate from homicide of 17.8 per 100,000, compared to 4.9 for white males — again, almost four times higher (363 percent). Hispanic females aged 15-19 had a death rate of 2.2 per 100,000, compared to 1.2 for white females — almost twice as high (183 percent), and those aged 20-24 had a death rate of 3.0 per 100,000, compared to 2.1 for white females (143 percent higher).

Further, the only aliens even eligible for the MPP are a subset of those who arrive at ports of entry along the southern border or who try to illegally cross the southern border. By definition, they have already (and in most instances voluntarily) entered and traveled through Mexico. They could have applied for asylum in Mexico. As DHS and DOJ have stated:

It is reasonable to expect that an alien who is fleeing persecution will seek protection in the first country where it is available, as opposed to waiting until arrival in the United States.


[T]he failure to seek asylum or refugee protection in at least one country through which an alien transited while en route to the United States may reflect an increased likelihood that the alien is misusing the asylum system as a mechanism to enter and remain in the United States rather than legitimately seeking urgent protection.

Additionally, DHS and DOJ have found that “the alleged failure to apply [for asylum in Mexico and] other countries due to violence or a fear of persecution is based principally on anecdotes and speculation and is neither borne out by evidence nor distinguished from similar conditions in the United States.” And the “United States Mission in Mexico is not aware of any pattern of violence targeted at potential refugees awaiting adjudication of their applications.”

This analysis led the departments to promulgate a regulation providing that “an alien who enters ... the United States across the southern land border is ineligible for ... asylum unless he or she applied for and received a final judgment denying protection in at least one third country through which he or she transited en route to the United States.” The interim final rule, which was later finalized but is now subject to a federal court injunction, explained that:

The ... bar on asylum eligibility for aliens who fail to apply for protection in at least one third country through which they transit en route to the United States ... aims to further the humanitarian purposes of asylum. It prioritizes individuals who are unable to obtain protection from persecution elsewhere ... . By ... de-prioritizing the applications of individuals who could have obtained protection in another country, the Departments seek to ensure that those refugees who have no alternative to U.S.-based asylum relief ... are able to obtain relief more quickly.

Further, “in Mexico, refugees have the right to seek protection in any state in which they are present.” Migrants arriving at and illegally crossing our southern border could have sought protection in safer areas of Mexico, such as those they would have traversed after crossing Mexico’s southern border. In the state of Guerrero, the homicide rate dropped by 23.7 percent in 2020, in Quintana Roo, the homicide rate dropped by 18.5 percent, in Mexico City it fell by 16.9 percent, and in Tabasco by 12.6 percent. And DHS and DOJ have pointed out that:

[T]he U.S. Ambassador to Mexico has explained that reports on localized violence in particular areas of Mexico do not indicate security conditions in the country as a whole. ... Mexico spans nearly 7,600,000 square miles, and the Ambassador explained that discussions about conditions in Mexico often times conflate the perils that refugees might face traversing across dangerous parts of Mexico en route to the United States with the ability to seek protection in a safe place in Mexico.

The departments have also pointed to the increase in asylum claims that migrants are making in Mexico:

[T]he [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] has documented a notable increase in asylum and refugee claims filed in Mexico — even during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — which strongly suggests that Mexico is an appropriate option for seeking refuge for those genuinely fleeing persecution. ... “Mexico has continued to register new asylum claims from people fleeing brutal violence and persecution, helping them find safety.’’ ... Overall [according to the Congressional Research Service], “[a]sylum requests have doubled in Mexico each year since 2015.” ... If aliens coming to the United States through Mexico feared living in Mexico, it would be irrational for them to seek refuge there in large numbers; yet, that is precisely what the available data suggests.

In fact, UNHCR is now providing “cash assistance ... to individuals with particular vulnerabilities who are seeking asylum in Mexico and who intend to remain in the Mexican state where they have applied for asylum until the process is completed.”

And it is also interesting to note that Mexico attracts a large number of American visitors and retirees. As DHS and DOJ have stated:

[V]arious media outlets and writers have opined on living in or retiring to Mexico . ... See, e.g., Kathleen Peddicord, The Best Places to Retire in Mexico, U.S. News & World Report (Apr. 30, 2019) . ... In 2019, U.S. citizens traveled to Mexico almost 40 million times. ... The U.S. Embassy in Mexico City estimates there are more than 1.5 million U.S. citizens living in Mexico. ... The Departments suggest that it strains credulity that so many Americans would move to Mexico if it were as unsafe as commenters alleged.

Recognition of the diverse security conditions that can exist within a nation is already enshrined in DHS and DOJ regulations (8 C.F.R. 208.13(b)(1)(i)), stating that “an asylum officer ... or an immigration judge ... shall deny the asylum application of an alien [who suffered] past persecution if ... [t]he applicant could avoid future persecution by relocating to another part of the applicant’s country of nationality ... and under all the circumstances, it would be reasonable to expect the applicant to do so.”

Even those aliens who have declined to seek protection from Mexico before arriving in the U.S. and are then returned to border towns in Mexico through the MPP are free at that point to travel to safer places in Mexico. And illegal migrants from Central America who travel through Mexico could have opted to head south rather than traveling north after departing their homes. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime reports that while the country-wide homicide rate in Mexico was 29.1 per 100,000 persons (in 2018), it was 7.2 in Nicaragua (2016), 9.4 in Panama (2018), 11.3 in Costa Rica (2018), and 25.3 in Colombia (2018).

In sum, the varying levels of violent crime in different Mexican locales constitute no more reason to abandon the MPP than the homicide epidemic in many American cities constitutes a reason to abandon our resettlement of refugees. The advocacy groups that bemoan the return of illegal aliens to Mexico through the MPP could just as easily complain should Mexico ever return illegal migrants to the U.S.