A few days ago, the President of the United States, Joe Biden, made public a negotiation he is attempting with the Senate Republicans, aimed at drastically limiting the arrival of refugees and migrants to the southern border of that country. Although it is not a firm agreement, as it still encounters powerful resistance – among others, from Donald Trump, who does everything to prevent it – what has been disclosed about the initiative would imply a profound change in the immigration legislation of the United States and in the role of the Mexican border.
Among other measures, the main one consists of “closing the border” with Mexico, which would be applied when the number of people arriving is excessive, as has been the case in recent months. That is, under the current mobility conditions, the implementation of the “closure” would proceed automatically, which would possibly last two weeks while flows decrease (if they do so).
The border closure, briefly stated, consists of the impossibility of processing asylum applications for those who attempt it during the “closed” period, except in limited exceptional cases.
According to leaks from the initiative – at the moment its content has not yet been disclosed – if in a given week more than four thousand arrivals per day occurred, the border would be “closed”; If there were more than five thousand, the measure would be implemented more strictly. Or, if on a certain day the figure exceeded 8,500 events, it would still apply.
As a reference to the number of people who recently arrived at the United States border, during December 2023 the daily average was 10 thousand.
As can be seen, the “border closure” is directed against people – particularly refugees – for whom the possibility of requesting asylum would be denied when the established limit is exceeded and only a limited number of applications would be accepted under certain conditions of urgency and priority.
Consequently, people affected by the “closure” would be returned to Mexico without further formalities, or they could be repatriated to their countries. And if they attempted to cross the border more than once, they would be punished with a one-year veto for any other attempt to enter the United States.
Faced with the crude scenario to come, with thousands of potential returns to our border, the Mexican government has apparently assumed its possible consequences unconditionally, reiterating the passive attitude it has shown with the application of previous initiatives by the United States government. such as the well-known “Stay in Mexico” and the express expulsions justified by the health emergency due to the covid pandemic (“Title 42”) during the Trump administration.
It is foreseeable that the new initiatives of the Biden government will involve converting (even more) the Mexican border cities into massive camps and narrow funnels of a human flow characterized by hopelessness and a deep social crisis. The scale of human mobility that currently passes through Mexico – including that originating from our country – is five times greater than that existing in 2018.
The truth is that this enormous mobility will not decrease in the coming months, but it may face greater obstacles such as the “border closure” and, in addition, it will surely find a sharper migratory containment machinery on the part of the Mexican government, with a heightened profile. militarized. There are more efforts in this direction than towards the provision of humanitarian assistance or policies for the protection and inclusion of refugees in Mexico, as should happen in accordance with the principles of our legal framework.
For now, if Biden were successful in negotiating his project, the problem that will immediately arise is determining how and who will regulate the order of priority for the “allowed” part of arrivals at the southern border of the United States when it is not there. closed”.
Also, if the border is “closed”, it remains pending what conditions and provisions will be faced by people who find the border gates blocked, without the possibility of requesting asylum. What will be their scenario in Mexico if they are returned expeditiously? Will they have any protection or will they simply be processed for the purpose of repatriation, including refugee claimants?
The new measures of the Biden government, by the way, simultaneously allow a minimum range of requests for asylum and humanitarian protection even with the border “closed.” The rules and procedures of this route have not been disclosed, but they will undoubtedly form part of a funnel that will allow a small number of people admitted and, on the other side, a larger group of excluded people who will probably end up at some Mexican border point.
The project that the Biden government is trying to implement is complex and has a number of additional measures to the “border closure.” For example, speed up asylum processes so that they last no more than six months, instead of the years they can now take; At the same time, it proposes streamlining deportation processes. Also, that people who are in the asylum process can work authorized in the United States and not have a retention period.
It also includes increasing the number of immigration judges, border patrol personnel and those in charge of asylum processes, in addition to improving border surveillance technologies, among other changes that have been leaked by the media.
No one is unaware of the enormous political burden behind Biden’s new immigration initiatives. For the future of the Democratic Party – due to a political situation that has made migration a crucial issue – this year’s presidential elections are tied to drastically reducing the number of people arriving irregularly at the southern border of the United States. On the contrary, for the Republican Party and its probable presidential candidate, Donald Trump, their electoral future and campaign agenda depends on the persistence of the “migration crisis” on the border with Mexico.
In the end, as on other occasions, “migration crises” are first and foremost political crises, issues of power. They are barely recognized in their essence, as crises and human tragedies, of thousands of people, families, boys and girls who flee in search of international protection. Which side is the Mexican government on?
The fundamental dilemma is not to opt for the Democrats or Republicans of the United States, but to decide between the logic of power or to vindicate the perspective of the people and their rights. Unfortunately, times are dark and predict storms especially for the Mexican population, as we are the largest nationality and almost a third of the total irregular arrivals at the United States border, also seeking refuge. Our compatriots, in large and growing numbers.
*PUED / UNAM Professor / Former INM Commissioner