Trump And Mexico’s López Obrador Both Want Fewer Migrants To The U.S.
On a recent rainy afternoon, about a dozen young Central American men crammed into a small room in a western borough of Mexico City. They sat on creaky chairs and couches, and listened intently as a young woman explained the basics to petitioning for an asylum in the United States.
A few of the young men, recent migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, peppered the presenter with questions, sharing biographical details that amounted to a tragically common story: they’d each fled their homes, fearing for their lives, and traveled north for safety.
Victor Muñoz, a baby-faced 26-year-old from Puerto Cortes, a small city in coastal Honduras, had crossed into Mexico after his father had been killed by three men who had robbed the business where he worked. The same men later assaulted Muñoz near his house, slicing open the fold between his right thumb and index, and cutting his fingers and arms, he said.
“I went to the hospital, and then I left the country because otherwise they said they were going to kill me,” Muñoz said.
Mexico’s incoming president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, says he wants people like Muñoz to be able to safely stay in their home countries, establishing what could become a common policy objective with the United States.
López Obrador, in a letter to U.S. President Donald Trump last month, said he would seek funding from his Congress for economic development in Mexico and Central America, so people can work and be safe near their homes.
“We will make sure migration becomes optional and not necessary,” the letter said.
Trump, in a letter dated one week later, said he’s willing to discuss the economic development and security issues that drive migration from Central America, “but we must also increase cooperation to protect the rule of law and the sovereignty of both our countries,” the letter said.
“I believe that Trump and Andrés Manuel, they can have an important coincidence,” said Gabriela Cuevas, a Mexican senator who campaigned for López Obrador. “We want to give them all the opportunities, and so does Donald Trump, so we can have some kind of agreement.”
The Vertical Border
In effect, the entire country of Mexico has already become a filter, stopping migrants from arriving at the U.S. border, says Luciana Gandini, an immigration law professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. In part, this is a result of U.S.-funded immigration enforcement under the administration of current President Enrique Peña Nieto. López Obrador says that, instead, he wants a new approach that focuses on the root causes of migration.
Mexico has become a “vertical border” for the United States, as Gandini calls it. A few years ago, Mexico stopped more Central Americans crossing illegally than the United States did. Last year, Mexican authorities deported 93,000 people, and under the Southern Border Plan overall, they’ve deported about half a million people to Central America.
Delia Arias, a second-year law student at the Columbia Law School in New York and a summer volunteer at the migrant shelter in Western Mexico City, says she’s hopeful but skeptical about López Obrador’s proposals.
Many experts agree Mexico’s immigration law is written to protect the safety and rights of migrants. But in practice, migrants are often neglected or even abused by Mexican authorities themselves.
"If you go ahead and read the immigration law of Mexico, it's beautiful," Arias said. “[But] we often don't have a lot of follow-through in Mexico, and I think that's the root cause of a lot of our problems."
Muñoz, the 26-year-old from Honduras, laughs at López Obrador’s proposal to promote development in Honduras and Central America. More jobs could help the many people who need them, he said.
“But the gangs are already there, the cartels are already there, and people like me, you can’t really make it safe for us to return anymore,” he said.
Muñoz will either look for work in Mexico, he said, or he’ll travel to the border with Texas and turn himself in to authorities there in the United States.
Lopez Obrador will take office on Dec. 1.