EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — A little more than a year ago, border officials struggled to process the thousands of asylum seekers arriving daily while fending off allegations of abuses at overcrowded detention centers.
Then came what Trump administration officials called one of their “game changers” amid the migrant surge: an enforcement deal with Mexico sealed under threat of heavy tariffs.
Mexico deployed troops to its southern and northern borders, agreed to receive more foreigners sent over by the United States under the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program and cracked down on human-smuggling networks.
The migrant caravans vanished, the number of migrants presenting themselves at U.S. ports of entry plummeted and detention centers were no longer bursting at the seams.
But what Department of Homeland Security officials see as an unfettered success story, immigration activists and some scholars say the U.S.-Mexico immigration deal merely pushed the humanitarian crisis south of the border.
“I think it’s been a failure. What it has (brought) is abuse and violation of human rights of immigrants both in Mexico and the United States,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of El Paso’s Border Network for Human Rights. “It’s very unfortunate that Mexico accepted doing the dirty job of (enforcing) the U.S. immigration policies.”
Garcia, who visited the Mexico-Guatemala border shortly after the June 7, 2019, binational agreement was implemented, said he saw checkpoints, army patrols, overcrowded detention centers and a certain xenophobia toward the migrants.
The MPP program has sent nearly 65,000 asylum seekers to wait out in Mexico asylum hearings in the United States. Activists have long complained that exposes them to crime in cities like Juarez, Nuevo Laredo and Matamoros, where drug cartel wars are raging and street gangs prey on vulnerable populations.
Now, they also face the risk of catching COVID-19 in places where they may not have access to adequate health care or even testing, observers say.
“In the months following the agreement, Mexico apprehended a record number of people,” the Washington Office for Latin America (WOLA) said in an analysis of the year-old immigration-enforcement deal. “However, this increase came with widespread reports of authorities detaining and deporting migrants without due process, a problem that has intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The analysis by Maureen Meyer and Elyssa Pachico said Mexico’s crackdown on Central Americans and others overfilled detention centers there and forced other migrants to take clandestine routes north that exposed them to crime and abuse.
“Past experiences show that this hardline approach may result in temporary decreases in regional migration, but smugglers don’t go out of business,” the analysis said. “And while the COVID-19 pandemic is currently having a major impact on mobility and migration worldwide, it has not completely stopped the movement of people fleeing violence and dangerous conditions.”
Another group, Human Rights First, claims that 1,114 asylum seekers forced to wait in Mexico have been victims of murder, rape, torture, kidnapping, and other violent assaults. The group published a detailed list of the crimes on its website.
WOLA and others say those same migrants are at high risk of contracting COVID-19 due to overcrowded and unsanitary conditions at Mexican camps and shelters. Outbreaks already have taken place in Juarez, Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa.
The year-old binational deal has also given Central Americans and others perhaps false hopes of getting asylum, if not in the United States, perhaps in Mexico. WOLA says 89,503 foreigners have requested asylum in Mexico between January 2019 and May 2020, but that country’s refugee agency is understaffed, underequipped and dealing with a significant backlog.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant, anti-asylum approach, and once again, the Mexican government hasn’t pushed back,” the WOLA analysis says.
The paper calls for the Trump administration to not use COVID-19 as an excuse to deepen harsh anti-asylum policies and on Mexico to reverse course and “take actions to protect, not endanger, the rights of immigrants and asylum seekers.”
Meantime, DHS continues to show much pride in collaborative U.S.-Mexico border security efforts.
“CBP’s excited to expand joint border patrols […] to combat drugs, weapons, human smugglers