After many days of uncertainty, Mexico and the United States closed a deal on Central American migration that will, for the time being, prevent the establishment of tariffs on Mexican US-bound exports. The deal calls for more muscular border enforcement in Mexico, including the deployment of 6,000 National Guard troops in the country’s southern border, as well as an uptick (of indeterminate size) in the number of refugees that Mexico will have to host while their asylum claims are processed by US authorities. Meanwhile, the agreement includes a vague commitment by the Trump administration to support an economic development program in Central America, but with no financial pledges. Finally, both sides agreed to review the implementation process in 90 days and potentially implement additional measures that could include (although the term is avoided in the pact) a safe third country treaty.
Despite parallel claims of victory in both Washington DC and Mexico City, the migration problem is not going away anytime soon, and the chances would appear great that Trump will eventually revive the tariff threats, especially as we move nearer to the 2020 US presidential elections.
It is impossible for Mexico to seal off its southern border even with the deployment of 6,000 members of the newly created National Guard. The border between Mexico and Guatemala consists of 967 km of very rugged – mostly rainforest and mountainous – terrain. A Mexican government intelligence report revealed that along the border there are eight formal and about 400 informal border crossings, of which 35 are dirt roads through which vehicles can pass. According to the Guatemalan government, the informal crossings number is close to 1,000.
The installed capacity of the National Immigration Institute (INM) to carry out detentions and the deportation of the detained migrants is very limited. And although Mexico did not budge on one of Trump’s key demands, to serve as a third safe country for asylum seekers, it will have to host and provide services for an indeterminate number of asylum seekers. With Mexican economic growth stalling, it is not difficult to imagine the scale of the social, labor, economic, and even humanitarian problems that would arise if Mexico attempted to confine hundreds of thousands of migrants to the country’s border towns and cities.
This week we take a look at the main scenarios Mexico faces in dealing with migration and US demands in that regard, and how it could all play out politically.
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