Monday, June 8, 2020
Mexico’s Migration and Asylum Policies, and Conditions at U.S.-Mexico Border, Have Been Significantly Reshaped in Year Since U.S.-Mexico Migration Cooperation Deal Was Signed
On June 7, 2019, after months of heightened Central American migration through Mexico to the United States, the Mexican and U.S. governments signed an agreement to work together to control the movement of asylum seekers and other migrants to the U.S. border. This ushered in an intense period of policy and institutional change that is reshaping Mexico’s immigration enforcement and humanitarian protection systems, and has also had significant impacts on conditions for migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.
A new Migration Policy Institute (MPI) policy brief, One Year after the U.S.-Mexico Agreement: Reshaping Mexico’s Migration Policies, traces the changes resulting from the signing of the migration cooperation proclamation. It also examines the effects on the U.S.-Mexico border of the policy responses undertaken by both governments to contain the spread of COVID-19.
After being threatened with steep tariffs on Mexican goods, Mexico agreed to step up enforcement efforts at its border with Guatemala and in the country’s interior, including by deploying its newly created National Guard for immigration missions. It also accepted the expansion of the U.S. Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP, also known as Remain in Mexico) along the U.S.-Mexico border, and promised to increase collaboration with the United States to disrupt migrant-smuggling networks. These enforcement-first actions marked a departure from the policy agenda the administration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador had sketched upon taking office in December 2018, which promised a greater focus on human rights as well as creation of legal pathways to facilitate orderly migration.
For its part, under the agreement, the United States pledged to expedite the asylum cases of migrants waiting in Mexico under MPP and to invest in economic development efforts in southern Mexico and Central America to address the drivers of migration.
Within 90 days of implementation, illegal migration at the U.S.-Mexico border and throughout Mexico sharply decreased, meeting the agreement’s primary objective. Heightened Mexican enforcement combined with U.S. unilateral policies designed to narrow access to asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border also increased demand for humanitarian protection within Mexico: asylum requests more than doubled, from 30,000 in 2018 to 71,000 in 2019.
While the full impact of the deal will likely take years to unfold, this policy brief charts trends in migrant apprehensions and returns by Mexican authorities, the volume of asylum applications filed in Mexico, and returns to Mexico under the U.S. MPP program. The brief also examines challenges that have intensified during this time, including the precarious conditions many migrants face while waiting in Mexican border communities for their U.S. asylum cases to be heard and the COVID-19 pandemic that hit in early 2020. Looking ahead, the brief highlights opportunities for further policy development.