The immigration policy of the United States and its implications in Latin America
Dejusticia February 9, 2023
Discussions on regularization and attention to migratory flows are increasingly relevant on national, regional, and international agendas. | EFE
Latin American countries face multiple challenges in dealing with migratory flows that involve people of different nationalities. In particular, forced migration from Venezuela has imposed enormous challenges on host countries in the region, ranging from providing humanitarian aid, creating and implementing regularization and socioeconomic integration policies, and responding to the pressures from the United States to curb migration entry to its territory.
The United States has implemented different measures to prevent the entry of migrants and refugees. In the first place, the securitization and control of its land borders —through regulations and practices of migration control and verification— seek to restrict the Human Rights of migrants. Secondly, it outsources its migration policy to Latin American governments, with the aim of extending that policy beyond their physical borders to reduce the arrival of migrants and refugees.
We highlight the military cooperation of the United States towards different countries in the region —with the objective of fighting transnational organized crime and providing stability in the
region— is not only a way of outsourcing its immigration control policy but also it is also a measure of securitization of the borders of Latin America.
Behind this type of aid also lies the intention to securitize the borders to stop the migratory flows that want to enter the United States. Recently, under a program of the Department of Defense, it provided military aid to the Government of Guatemala, seeking to reinforce border security and protect the Central American country from organized and transnational crime. This type of cooperation and strategy is not a recent issue; however, in conjunctural situations, when migratory flows increase, these measures grow as well. This case is even more worrying because the United States would be breaking its own law that does not allow foreign military financing for Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.
In the case of Mexico, the Mérida Initiative —a bilateral cooperation agreement to strengthen border security and help counter the activities of transnational criminal organizations— was replaced by the Bicentennial Framework for Security, Public Health, and Safe Communities —a project that recognizes the failed strategy of the war against drug trafficking and has a new approach to cooperation in security matters. This new agreement has led Mexico to increase its military presence on the borders, as it did with the deployment of the National Guard to the north and south of the territory.
Civil society organizations, such as the Fundación para la justicia, documented the implications of the action of the army in violations of the Human Rights of migrants in Mexico. For instance, arbitrary and illegal detentions, racial profiling, violence against women, and excessive use of force.
Finally, another measure that violates the rights of migrants and refugees is the returns to their countries of origin or third parties without verifying the security conditions and protection of Human Rights in these places. These measures have been implemented mainly through memorandums of understanding between the United States and Latin American countries —Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador stand out—.
This decision becomes a problem because, on the one hand, the United States ignores its international obligations to guarantee the right to asylum; on the other, the lives of applicants would be at risk if they send them to third countries that do not have the minimum protection guarantees of their rights, or that are highly conflictive societies.
On the mass expulsions from the United States: What is happening in Mexico?
Mexico has increased restrictive measures on migratory flows from southern countries. An example of this is the new visa for people of Venezuelan nationality, which arises as a response to stop the arrival of this migrant population. Likewise, the Mexican State has implemented a voluntary return program, as stated in this article.
No less seriously, it agreed to cooperate with the United States to accept the massive returns of Venezuelan migrants and refugees to the northern borders of Mexico under the extension of the Title 42 border policy, which allows the expulsion of adults and families who had crossed the land borders of the United States without authorization, under the argument of stopping the Covid-19; a measure that leaves not only migrants and applicants for international protection in a situation of vulnerability but also a crisis situation for civil organizations and shelters in Mexico, especially at border points.
Mass expulsions through strategies such as the one recently announced by the United States government violate the right to seek and receive asylum. In addition, it contradicts different international instruments, such as the 1951 Convention on Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, which establishes the prohibition of rejection at the border and the principle of non-refoulment that covers any measure attributable to the State that may have the effect of returning an asylum seeker or refugee to the limits of territories or to their countries of origin, where their life or freedom may be at risk.
However, the measures that the US government imposes on the migrant and refugee population violate these standards since they are deporting asylum seekers to the border with Mexico, a territory with a latent humanitarian crisis and where thousands of migrants of other nationalities are waiting for a response to their asylum applications, both in Mexico and in the United States.
Some of the unknowns about the position of Mexico are related to how the current government will protect migrants and refugees, if it plans to return them to their countries of origin, or if they will remain in Mexican territory. Local organizations have expressed their concern about the situation of vulnerability to which the migrant community is being exposed, particularly the Venezuelan people, in their return process to Mexico.
Through collective statements, civil organizations that care for the migrant population document that, from October 12 to 23, 2022, 5,193 Venezuelans were expelled to Mexico and that 41,000 people were held in its national territory without being able to cross into the United States. The shelters that host this population share the lack of capacity and the saturation of the spaces so that migrants have decent places to spend the night.
In Mexico City alone, people are in overcrowded shelters and, according to Samantha Hernández, from the CAFEMIN shelter team, people are arriving without documents, wearing detention center clothes and handcuffed, left to fend for themselves. The authorities’ response was limited to precarious and incipient humanitarian assistance.
Given the lack of response and government resources, again civil organizations are the ones who are working so that the migrant community has minimum conditions during their journey: clothing, shelter, food, and health care.
“The call to action is that they do not forget us [the civil society organizations], that they do not leave us alone, that approach the migrants’ houses, and that from the possibilities of each one they accompany us, with products in kind, as well as donations,” highlights Samantha.
Guaranteeing human migration in Latin America
Discussions on regularization and attention to migratory flows are increasingly relevant on national, regional, and international agendas. In turn, it has implied discussing and formulating public programs and policies that guarantee the socioeconomic integration of migrants and refugees in the host communities. However, the actions of the states to address migration and the challenges it imposes have made it clear that many of the responses lack a Human Rights approach.
These actions obey guidelines issued by the United States, which has been in charge of extending its immigration policy to the Latin American region. Measures such as those that authorize the securitization and militarization of borders with the purpose of implementing migration control contradict the duty of States to safeguard and guarantee the rights of people in a condition of human mobility, as indicated by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR).
At the same time, it exposes migrants, who are already in conditions of extreme vulnerability, to being victims of trafficking and extortion. Among the figures are women, girls, boys, adolescents, the elderly, people with disabilities, and the LGBTQI+ community, who require differentiated attention and support and does not appear within the statistical analysis.
Thus, it is necessary for Latin American countries to bet on human migration through policies that seek to prioritize the protection of the Human Rights of migrants, as well as granting them regular immigration status. These measures must accompany socioeconomic integration and labor inclusion programs. So, coordinated work between the states, international cooperation, international organizations, and civil society is required, looking for reducing socioeconomic vulnerabilities of the migrants and refugees in receiving countries.
Finally, it is substantial to remember the commitments recently acquired by some States in the Los Angeles Declaration, such as “protecting the safety and dignity of all migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless persons, regardless of their immigration status, and to respect their Human Rights and fundamental freedoms.”
At the same time, the efforts of civil society of the south of the continent have not ceased to accompany and protect the life and integrity of migrants, even when they are at the limit of their capacities: from attending the choke points, or preparing food for hundreds of families, are ways of making the context visible and accompanying this population. It seems pertinent, then, that the Latin American governments listen to the demands of civil organizations and migrants, collaborate with them to guarantee the protection of their rights, and face this situation from a human and regional perspective.