Residents in U.S., Mexico Need Change From the Immigration Status Quo

The Joe Biden administration announced earlier this week that it was ending the controversial Remain-in Mexico policy, yet a cross-border immigration strategy with its counterpart in Mexico remains to be outlined. This is likely to happen during Vice President Kamala Harris’ upcoming trip to Mexico and Guatemala. That trip is an opportunity for state and provincial leaders to speak up to their national governments and say enough is enough.

Only weeks ago, the attorney general of Texas sued the Biden administration for his decision to end the “Remain-in-Mexico” policy that forced thousands of Central American asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their petitions were being processed. Gov. Gregg Abbott issued a disaster declaration in response to an “ongoing surge” of undocumented immigration.

When Remain-in-Mexico was instituted under Donald Trump, aided by Mexican President Andrés Manual López Obrador, the state of Chihuahua, which shares more than 500 miles of border with the United States, suddenly had to spend millions in unbudgeted financial resources to accommodate scores of migrants in improvised camps along the border. Funding also had to be increased to fight the criminal element that preys on them.

Despite the unfortunate headlines constantly generated by the international criminal organizations using Chihuahua as a staging point to meet the insatiable demand for illegal drugs in the United States and increasingly in Mexico, Chihuahua is also known for its hard-working people and resilient communities. They are used to migrant flows, both from the Mexican interior, drawn to job opportunities in the booming “maquiladora” (a factory in Mexico run by a foreign country) industry and those headed to the United States searching for the “American Dream.”

We understand their plight and are just as moved by the images of drowned children and separated families as anyone with a shred of humanity would be. But we also have our citizens to take care of, especially during a pandemic that has crippled our economy and created unprecedented levels of unemployment.

As a border state, we share Texas’ struggle to handle a crisis of wartime dimensions with resources that were meant to take care of our own population.

[MORE: Migrants Learn to Confront Lingering Mental Health Issues]

The Migrant Protection Protocols known as “Remain-in-Mexico” was a policy initiated by the Trump administration in 2018 that outlined procedures allowing the U.S. government to return asylum seekers to Mexico to wait while their cases were pending in the U.S. immigration court system. This policy drew similarities with the Australian offshore detention scheme by which refugees and asylum seekers are sent to detention centers on nearby islands while their claims are being processed.

Remain-in-Mexico resulted in the shanty camps along the border that we’ve all seen photos of. Rather than giving immigrants hope and a respite from the conditions of poverty and violence that they were fleeing in the first place, this policy made them more vulnerable to abuse from criminals both inside and outside of the camps. On top of this is the concern of spreading disease, including COVID-19, that inevitably occurs in an environment of confinement and squalor.

The Remain-in-Mexico policy was never the right approach to ending the northward migrant flow to the United States, as the current economic and public safety conditions in Central America will continue to drive migrants north — with the added incentive of a long-established diaspora eager for family reunification – and America’s ongoing demand for low-wage labor remaining a gravitational force reaching far into the central and southern reaches of the Americas.

Much is said about the root causes of Central American migration, with the main one conveniently left out, namely: politics. Immigration has become a permanent “crisis” that no one appears eager to solve. U.S. politicians on both sides of the aisle draw from the immigration well every election cycle to mobilize their bases, and President López Obrador seems to have learned from Trump to use it as a lucrative foreign policy bargaining chip either for obtaining vaccine doses or turning the casual blind eye to free-trade violations.

According to its Constitution, Mexico is organized as a federal government, but in reality our tax policy has evolved around a value added tax, collected by the federal government and then redistributed among states and municipalities. This system has undermined local government autonomy and subjected governors and mayors to walking the line dictated by Mexico City or otherwise face budgetary starvation.

Our state budgets and our taxpayers can no longer afford, and should no longer enable, an immigration political racket that mainly benefits the status quo in Washington, D.C., and Mexico City.

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