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Migration: reality demands humanitarian… decisions

Mexican academic Rafael Hernández has accurately argued that the government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador registers a sort of unfulfilled promise in terms of migration policy. When he ascended to power, in 2018, he announced that, unlike previous administrations, his would be based on the definition of a new paradigm that would privilege full respect for human rights and bet on social and economic development as the material sustenance of people in mobility within Mexico.

This has not happened, as documented by several reports of mistreatment and human rights violations by Mexican authorities against Venezuelan, Cuban, Central American, and Haitian migrants, particularly since the activation of the bilateral agreement with the United States to prevent undocumented access to Venezuelan nationals a year ago. Since then, the police and military response to migration has intensified.

The current migration crisis must be approached from a regional perspective, since it involves sending countries, such as Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, Haiti, and Cuba, together with the traditional triangle of the North Central American border (El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala); transit countries, such as Colombia, Panama and practically all of Central America, and obviously Mexico, which is not only a place of circulation but also a place of settlement for thousands of migrants, those who do not manage to enter the United States.

The U.S. territory continues to be a sort of magnet, deeply attractive, knowing or sometimes unaware of the crossings, obstacles, and dangers that lurk in very different places of the region for those who go searching for them without having permission to enter through regular channels.

Mexico, for geopolitical reasons and, by tradition, having historically been a country of emigrants, and also being a Gordian knot in the current crisis, should lead a comprehensive policy in coordination with other countries. Mexico, which with López Obrador has once again reproduced the role of watchdog of the border with the United States, must open itself to another broader discussion, marked by the comprehensive humanitarian response that the current migration crisis demands.

The announcement by the Mexican Foreign Ministry that a regional conference will be convened, with a dozen countries, to discuss the migratory situation, should be seen as a first positive sign. It is the first step in a series of decisions to be taken by the countries individually and in a concerted manner to deal with the greater volume, shorter time, and faster growth of a migratory flow in the region that is clearly disorderly and is made up of people in a clearly vulnerable condition, who are literally fleeing their countries with the little they have on their backs.

Any governmental discussion in the region on the growing volume of migrants, undoubtedly a problem that merits governmental responses at various scales, must start from a principle clearly defined by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2019: “Every migrant has the right to respect for his or her human dignity”. Every migrant is, at the end of the day, a person, and as a human being is a bearer of universally recognized basic rights. It seems a truism, but it is a truth that should not be relativized in any governmental decision involving migrants, regardless of their immigration status.

Mexico has confirmed, this October 1, that some 10,000 people arrive every day at the border of this country with the United States. According to López Obrador’s government, it is a situation that overwhelms them. The U.S. has also been overwhelmed: in the first 17 days of September there were 142,037 migrant detentions at the border, 15% more than the 123,777 of the same period last month. Along with this, around 1,450 people every day are admitted through regular channels, in U.S. territory, through the CBP One mobile application, with procedures that are mostly carried out on Mexican soil.

Costa Rica has anticipated the meeting in Mexico to declare, on September 26, a national emergency. According to official data from border authorities, as of September 23, more than 390,000 migrants had crossed this year the dangerous Darien jungle that separates Colombia from Panama. This is the highest figure on record and makes this jungle area the de facto main migration corridor in the Americas. In all of 2022, some 248,000 people crossed the Darien.

The migrants, once they pass through the Darien, do not stop in Panamanian territory: the Panamanian government calls the transfer of foreigners in buses to the border with Costa Rica, which is the next country on the route, a “controlled flow”. Since June, when some 900 migrants a day were entering Costa Rican territory through the southern border, the flow tripled to some 2,600 a day during August. The response of the government of Rodrigo Chaves, however, has not been to address the humanitarian situation, but to prevent migrants from remaining in Costa Rican territory.

What Chaves announced is a transportation scheme, organized by the state with private companies, under which each person is charged $30 for express transportation between the southern border of Costa Rica (with Panama) and the northern border, adjacent to Nicaragua.

The BBC Mundo website has reported that once they reach the north of Costa Rica, many migrants resort to the service of “talibanes”, as transporters are known, who take them to blind spots on the Nicaraguan border when they cannot afford to pay the 150 dollars that the Managua government charges as a safe-conduct to enter regularly through the border point of Las Tablillas.

And so, these transfers, payments, and mobilizations, are part of a route that, depending on the money one has, can go faster or not. A 30-year-old man, son of a man who usually serves me coffee in an establishment in Venezuela, took a month since he left Darien and was able to reach northern Mexico. There he does menial jobs and tries to recover economically to make the leap to U.S. soil, where he dreams of being able to take his wife and two daughters, who were left behind, with him in the future.

*Translated by Janaína Ruviaro da Silva from the original in Spanish.


Professor in graduate programs at the universities of San Andrés, FLACSO, Tres de Febrero, San Martín, Buenos Aires and others. PhD in Political Science and Master in Public Administration from the Univ. of California-Berkeley. Senior Researcher CONICET.


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