The 100th day of the Trump administration arrived over the weekend, and with it an onslaught of articles remarking on the administration's accomplishments, or lack thereof. Below is an overview of immigration-related events and trends that have emerged south of the border, including but not limited to:
- Increases in social and economic reintegration programs for deportees;
- Migrants searching for destinations other than the United States; and
- A surge of asylum applications in Mexico.
After former President Obama announced the end of the "wet foot, dry foot" policy, Cubans stranded in Mexico turned to the Trump administration in hopes it would reverse the change. However, the current administration gave no indication it would reinstate the policy. Additionally, the Mexican government began to deport the islanders after the pipeline into the United States was closed. Consequently, the Cuban illegal aliens, in an effort to avoid deportation, asked the Mexican government for refugee status. The islanders were granted the status and allowed to stay in Mexico.
In addition to an increase in Cuban requests for asylum, Mexico is experiencing an overall surge in asylum applications. Data from Mexico's refugee agency (COMAR) shows that between November 2016 and March of this year the number of asylum applications (5,421) has increased in comparison to the number of applications (2,148) over the same period in 2015 and 2016. It should be noted that this upward trend has been developing over the past couple of years. However, a spike in these numbers could happen as the Trump administration continues to tighten immigration enforcement. Various narratives presented in the Spanish-language media indicate that Central Americans are choosing to stay in Mexico rather than attempting to cross the U.S. border. Moreover, the Mexican government reaffirmed its commitment to protecting asylum seekers.
Only a few days after President Trump took office, the Mexican government published an outline of objectives for its relationship with the new administration. It included topics such as deportation protocols, free flow of remittances, and the development of Central America to address migration flows in the region.
Additionally, the Mexican government (both at the national and local level) has moved to strengthen and create social and economic reintegration programs for deportees. For example, through its national initiative "Somos Mexicanos", the Mexican government aims to offer 50,000 jobs to deportees and has worked with the business sector to prepare job boards. Some legislators have even proposed the modification of the income tax law to create incentives for hiring deportees. Furthermore, the Mexican Department of Labor was given 18 million pesos to provide employment to those deported from the United States. The Mexican government is also providing legal aid for deportees.
In this same vein, Mexico reformed its education law to facilitate the reintegration of deported "dreamers" into the Mexican education system. (This change may be premature, given the Trump administration's inaction on DACA.) In an op-ed titled "Back home, welcome to school", Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto wrote, ''As a government, our commitment is to ensure that their reintegration into national life is carried out with full respect for human rights and that they have effective opportunities for personal and family development."
The Mexican government has also been active within the United States and at its own southern border. Within the United States, the Mexican government disseminated guidelines on how illegal aliens can prepare for detention. Meanwhile, at the Mexico-Guatemala border, it appears that Mexico is tightening its own immigration enforcement — even reaching historically high numbers of Honduran deportations.
Yet one of the most notable responses to President Trump's administration came from Mexico's National Institute for Migration, which recognized that, "deportation of Mexicans is not new, it is not an issue that emerged with the Donald Trump presidency, the immigration policy of the United States has always been the same."
Like Mexico, the Guatemalan government has moved to create support programs for deportees. Guatemala's reintegration program, "Guate te incluye" (Guatemala includes you), aims to open spaces so that Guatemalans who "return from abroad" can contribute to the reduction of the country's unemployment rate.
Unlike in the Mexican context, one of the most intriguing reactions to the new political situation in the United States came from an opinion article — rather than a statement by a government official. In it, the author suggested that now that the "escape valve" to the United States has been closed, it is time for Guatemala to "clean house" and rectify its political and economic conditions.
The tightening of the United States' southern border appears to be having an effect on Hondurans' choice of final destination. For example, some Honduran migrants are looking to Belize as a source of employment. Rather than emigrating to the neighboring country for the long-term, Hondurans travel to Belize on Mondays and return home every 15 days, after completing different forms of labor. Hondurans use the Honduras-Belize maritime corridor to travel back and forth.
In addition, the Honduran Observatory of International Migration notes that while some Hondurans are choosing to stay in Mexico, migration to Costa Rica, Canada, and Spain may increase as Mexico tightens its own southern border. Moreover, some Hondurans already in the United States are considering leaving for Canada to avoid deportation. Nevertheless, the most interesting "new" destination is Honduras. Some Honduran migrants are choosing to return to their home country, but to relocate to areas further removed from violence.
As in Mexico and Guatemala, the Honduran government has taken steps to appropriate funds for job creation programs, aiming to reintegrate deportees.
The Honduran government also signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to collaborate in the identification of criminals and potential terrorists entering or transiting Honduras.
Following Mexico's footsteps, the Salvadoran government released its own tips for how illegal aliens in the United States should prepare for possible detention by immigration authorities.
Concerning reintegration, Salvadoran legislators noted that they were prepared to pass a law that creates a special fund to support returning illegal aliens. The initiative was presented by El Salvador's minister of foreign affairs, who said that these funds would provide specialized legal aid to illegal aliens apprehended in the United States, and when deported, give them access to reintegration programs.
Further south, the Panamanian government gave Cuban illegal aliens the ultimatum to regularize their stay, leave the country within 45 days, or be deported. This ultimatum comes after months of waiting to see if the Trump administration would reverse Obama's decision to end the wet foot, dry foot policy.
As the perceived risk of crossing the Mexico-U.S. border increased under the Trump administration, coyotes in the region raised the prices they charge for their services. Now, would-be illegal aliens may pay over $10,000 to be smuggled to Mexico's northern border and into the United States.
North of the United States, Canadian authorities detained more Mexicans in the first 67 days of 2017 than they did annually in any of the three previous years.
While a direct causal relationship between Trump's presidency and the aforementioned events and trends cannot be established, it would be erroneous to say that there is no relationship to the administration's messaging. The question that rises is: Is the administration's messaging a sustainable deterrent? Guatemala's deputy minister of foreign affairs acknowledged the fear has been intense, but no major deportations have been realized. President Trump's rhetoric of enforcement will need to be followed by concrete actions to ensure that the reduction in illegal immigration is sustained.