U.S. and Panama Create Joint Task Force to Confront Illegal Migration

By Kausha Luna on June 8, 2018

According to a joint press release, the United States and Panama have finalized the creation of a Joint Migration Task Force, "a new mechanism to ensure more effective and complete coordination to address illegal immigration in the region."

At the invitation of the Panama's President Juan Carlos Varela and other top officials, a delegation from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) participated in the third meeting of the U.S.-Panama High-Level Dialogue on Security. The meeting was held between security authorities of both governments in order to coordinate and prioritize joint actions in relation to illegal migratory flows that affect the region and to combat drug trafficking and other criminal modalities of transnational crime.

The press release does not specify which agencies will be part of the joint task force or when will it be active.

Panama is the gateway to Central America, a transit zone for thousands of migrants from South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia, who are smuggled to the United States' southern border. Between the years 2010 and 2016 the flow of illegal migrants across Panama's southern border generally followed an upward trend, with a significant jump in 2015-2016 likely due to the influx of Cuban and Haitian migrants. During these years, 80 percent of these illegal migrants were from Cuba and Haiti. Approximately, 12 percent were from Asia and 8 percent from Africa. In 2017, according to Panama's immigration statistics, the flow of illegal aliens crossing from Colombia decreased to 6,780. Of these migrants, 60 percent were from Asian countries, 27 percent were African, and 11 percent were from the Caribbean. The remaining migrants were from Europe and North and Central America. As of May 31, 2018, 3,030 illegal aliens have transited across Panama's southern border. So far this year the migrant flow consists of 77 percent Asians, 21 percent Africans, and 1 percent from the Antillean islands.

Illegal Alien Transit Across Panama's Southern Border

Source: Panama National Migration Service.

The joint task force will focus on combating alien smuggling, customs fraud, drug and arms trafficking, and money laundering. In addition, the Panama-U.S. efforts on border security will include equipping strategic border points with non-intrusive inspection equipment.

Panama and the United States also agreed to hold bilateral high-level meetings semi-annually in order to identify areas of common interest and provide specific solutions on the various transnational criminal organizations that threaten their national security and stability, as well as that of other countries of the hemisphere. Moreover, the two countries "reaffirmed that this is a very important step toward a common strategy to counteract the strategic threats of transnational security, convinced that it will be the basis for a broader and deeper cooperation to face joint security challenges."

If well implemented, this task force could mirror Mexico's Southern Border Program. Established in 2014, the program has helped curtail Central American migration to the United States by reinforcing Mexico's southern border. The U.S.-Panama initiative could have a similar function and curb Caribbean, African, and Asian migration, often referred to as "extra-continental" migration, at an earlier point on the journey north.