Monday, November 23, 2020

U.S. Faces Key Opportunity to Reset Cooperation with Mexico and Central America & Build a Workable Regional Migration System


Migration from Central America and Mexico to the United States is an enduring, often shifting phenomenon that demands intelligent management. While the Trump administration focused heavily on a unilateral, enforcement-only approach to managing migration from the region, the strategy is unlikely to be sustainable.

As the incoming Biden administration begins to formulate its immigration policy agenda, it faces a signal opportunity to create a sustainable strategy, one built around regional cooperation. Such a strategy will not end illegal immigration entirely, an oft-cited if unrealistic policy aim, but stands a chance of managing it more effectively while also allowing the countries in the region—including the United States—to better harness the value of immigration.

A new report from the Migration Policy Institute’s Rethinking U.S. Immigration Policy initiative, Building a New Regional Migration System: Redefining U.S. Cooperation with Mexico and Central America, outlines a strategy to turn some of the region’s unauthorized migration flows into legal ones, restore access to humanitarian protection, professionalize border enforcement and make targeted investments to address some of the pressures that contribute to large-scale emigration.

The report, by MPI President Andrew Selee and Policy Analyst Ariel Ruiz Soto, offers the elements that a successful regional cooperation strategy should encompass:

  • Expanded temporary labor migration pathways. Extending seasonal work visas, currently primarily allotted to Mexican nationals, to workers from Central America would help reduce irregular movements and provide economic migrants with short-term employment opportunities. Incentivizing employers to develop talent pipelines in the region and improving visa programs so that they are flexible and preferential to the countries with high migration pressures (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador) may facilitate more orderly and transparent migration flows.
  • Rebuilding humanitarian protection systems. Following the Trump administration’s near-total ending of asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border, the incoming administration should move to re-establish fair asylum procedures while taking actions to streamline the process and relieve an overburdened immigration court system. Among other steps to revive humanitarian protection, the United States should create alternative ways to protect those facing persecution, including with in-country protection programs that identify them closer to home and resettling some through refugee programs as part of a multilateral effort that involves Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica and other countries in close coordination with UN agencies.
  • Ensuring transparent and rules-based border enforcement. While enforcement of immigration laws will continue to be a central component of a regional migration management strategy, U.S. and Mexican enforcement measures should be transparent, rules-based and prioritize humanitarian considerations, including in the United States by way of alternatives to detention.
  • Investment in economic and institutional development in countries of origin. While Mexico and Central American countries have made economic advancements, the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to exacerbate existing economic and social pressures that lead people to migrate. Devising innovative strategies, such as leveraging remittances for economic development and strengthening institutions that protect the rule of law, serve migration management goals alongside regional security and economic growth.

“To move the needle towards safer, more orderly, and legal migration, the United States will need to enhance collaboration across the region and, together with its partners, design and implement a multifaceted regional approach to an enduring regional phenomenon,” said Selee.


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