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Sunday, September 19, 2021

Mexico: Help for US on migrants ‘can’t go on forever’

Mexico is not legally bound to accept the US policy of sending non-Mexican asylum seekers back across the border to wait for hearings on their claims, and most asylum seekers aren't Mexican.

By: PTI/AP | Mexico City |
August 27, 2021 11:56:52 am
Migrants walk on a dirt road after crossing the US-Mexico border, in Mission, Texas. (Photo: AP/Julio Cortez)

Mexico’s president has again sidestepped questions about the reinstatement of the US ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Thursday said Mexico will continue helping the United States on immigration. But he noted ‘it can’t go on forever,’ and said attention must turn to development in Central America so people don’t have to emigrate.

“We have taken it upon ourselves to help the US government on the immigration issue, we are going to continue to do so,” Lopez Obrador said.

“We have tried to keep migrants in shelters, above all to protect minors, women,” the president said. “But this can’t go on forever, we have to get to the bottom of the issue and that means investing in the development of poor countries.”

That was an apparent reference to Lopez Obrador’s proposal to expand Mexico’s mass tree-planting program into Central America, which pays farmers to plant fruit and timber species. The US government has so far been slow to take up the proposal.

In Mexico, the programme has been dogged by accusations it encourages farmers to cut down existing trees in order to be paid for planting new ones.

Mexico is not legally bound to accept the US policy of sending non-Mexican asylum seekers back across the border to wait for hearings on their claims, and most asylum seekers aren’t Mexican.

Mexico allowed non-Mexicans to be sent back under the administration of Donald Trump, but Mexican officials haven’t said if they will allow it to resume.

The US Supreme Court refused Tuesday to block a lower-court ruling ordering the administration of President Joe Biden to reinstate the Trump-era policy of forcing people to wait in Mexico for hearings on asylum claims.

Roberto Velasco, Mexico’s director for North American affairs, said Wednesday the court ruling is not binding on Mexico. He stressed that Mexico’s “immigration policy is designed and executed in a sovereign manner”.

“The Mexican government will start technical discussions with the US government to evaluate how to handle safe, orderly and regulated immigration on the border,” Velasco said. Lopez Obrador endorsed that position Thursday.

Lopez Obrador has had good relations with the US government on immigration matters and has cooperated in blocking migrant caravans and deporting migrants trying to reach the US border. Lopez Obrador said Thursday that relations remained good under Biden.

It’s not clear how many people will be affected by the Supreme Court ruling and how quickly. Under the lower court ruling, the administration must make a ‘good faith effort’ to restart the programme.

There also is nothing preventing the Biden administration from trying again to end the programme, formally called Migrant Protection Protocols.

During Trump’s presidency, the policy required tens of thousands of migrants seeking asylum in the US to turn back to Mexico. It was meant to discourage asylum seekers, but critics said it denied people the legal right to seek protection in the US and forced them to wait in dangerous Mexican border cities.

During the Trump administration, the Mexican government said it was cooperating with the programme for humanitarian reasons.

Although migrants were granted humanitarian visas to stay in Mexico until they had their US hearings, they often had to wait in dangerous areas controlled by cartels, leaving them vulnerable to being kidnapped, assaulted, raped or even killed. Others were transported by bus to parts of southern Mexico or ‘invited’ to return to their home countries.

Workers at shelters on the northern border, where conditions are already crowded and migrant tent camps have sprung up again, expressed concern.

“We are worried because there are a lot of people here,” said Maria de la Luz Silva who works at the Senda de la Vida migrant shelter in the border city of Reynosa, across from McAllen, Texas.

While a tent encampment closed down in the nearby city of Matamoros after Biden suspended Remain in Mexico, now a similar encampment of about 2,000 migrants has sprung up near a border bridge in Reynosa.

“We believe it will be a very hard situation, very difficult,” said Rev. Francisco Gallardo, director of the Matamoros Casa del Migrante shelter. He called the encampments ‘inhumane’ and called on authorities to prevent a repeat of such conditions.

Mexico technically could block the return of the Remain in Mexico programme by refusing to accept migrants asked to stay there under what is formally known as the Migrant Protection Protocols. But analysts like Tonatiuh Guillen, former head of Mexico’s migration agency, consider that unlikely given the country’s history of cooperation with the US.

Guillen said Mexican officials will probably go along even though the country doesn’t have sufficient resources to deal with an influx of asylum seekers at the border and nonprofit shelters south of the border are overwhelmed.

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