Panama Follows Mexico in Clamping Down on Illegal Migrants

By Jason Peña on July 29, 2019

The National Migration Service (SNM) of Panama recently reported the country's latest deportation data. The Nicaraguan news website El Nuevo Diario reported, the removal of 531 Nicaraguan migrants from Panama for the first six months of 2019, nearly 25 percent of the total of 2,034 foreigners repatriated to their home countries during this time. Of the 531 migrants, 86 were formally deported by Panamanian immigration officials, 12 were prohibited from returning to country, and the remaining 433 migrants voluntarily returned to Nicaragua. The month of June represented the highest number of migrant removals of 2019, with 24 formal deportations of Nicaraguan citizens.

The SNM data indicates that while Nicaraguans comprise a large share of deportations and permanent bans from Panama, the country ranks third behind Cubans and Colombians. Panamanian immigration officials have generally utilized "voluntary return" as the primary method for immigration enforcement. Additionally, since 2017, Panama has adopted stricter immigration policies. Presidential Decree 269, mandates any foreign tourist on Panama's soil must depart after 90 days; the previous limit was 180 days.

Presidential Decree 269 was specifically crafted to address the recent influx of Nicaraguans, Colombians, and Venezuelans. According to SNM official data, 2018 witnessed over 1,066 returns of Nicaraguans from Panama – a 33.4 percent drop compared to 2017, when 1,603 were sent back. Between 2010 and 2018, there were over 6,431 deportations of Nicaraguans from Panama, with 1,000 of those deportations occurring in the last four years. Data from the SNM lists visa overstays as the primary reason for deportation, followed by illegal entry into Panama, national security risks, and "remaining irregularly" in the country.

In recent months, Panama's neighbors Mexico, Guatemala, and Costa Rica have also experienced a high volume of migrants at their borders.