Globe, Latin America, Migrants, United Kingdom

Mexico, a transit point for poor and desperate migrants

The Latin American country is the almost obligatory American crossroads for the migrant from south of the Rio Bravo, captivated by the dazzling opulence of the United States and for whom misery generally awaits.


Luis Manuel Arce Isaac


There are more than three thousand kilometres of borders with the United States that pass through the states of Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila and Nuevo León.

Each one has its own labyrinth of tunnels and passages controlled by human smugglers (coyotes), or official points where commercial activity prevails over migratory activity and human beings do not count for much. For the United States, the basic labour force in its large factories and farms was supplied by foreigners, much of it from the hemisphere, and its scientific and research centres were nourished by an unceasing brain drain. Migration was not a problem for that nation then.

It is now one of the most serious, complicated and controversial because, in addition to the economic and social development causes of the great exoduses, there has been an extraordinary increase in the distribution of wealth and a concentration of capital that the northern power does not want to give up.

Economic globalisation changed the rules of the game in such a way that the plundering of the periphery increased as never before, generating low-intensity wars of genocide and conquest such as those in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, which filled vast regions with military and social violence and unleashed global economic crises such as that of 2008, which dramatically increased migratory flows.

Latin America and the Caribbean did not escape neoliberal troglodytism and that exodus in distant Africa and the Middle East began to multiply in this region, while the United Nations tried unsuccessfully to achieve a new approach to sustainable development goals such as facilitating orderly, safe and regular migration through what was called a Global Migration Pact (GMP), adopted by the UN in 2018.

Mexico, together with Switzerland, was the country designated by the UN General Assembly to conduct the negotiations leading to the GMP.

With the arrival of Andrés Manuel López Obrador to the presidency in 2018, Mexico’s involvement in the region has given impetus to the new approach that should be taken to the migration phenomenon in the region in order to attack the flow at its root causes.

Particularly – according to this point of view – it would be with a position of rejection and denunciation of neoliberalism based on their own experience of emigration to the United States, especially from the south-southeast, the most underdeveloped and impoverished area.

The Mexican government, aware that what migrants do from south of the Rio Bravo cannot be undertaken from Canada, which would be the other land entry to the United States, nor via the difficult Atlantic waters, leaves them the only alternative for entry to the extensive border strip of national territory.

This geographical location made Mexico the ideal passageway to cross to the north bank of the river where another odyssey awaits them, probably worse, especially since 1980, the year of the first massive entries of Central Americans from Guatemala, according to studies by the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).

As Katya Somohano and Pablo Yankelevich point out in the book “El refugio en México. Entre la historia y los desafíos contemporáneos” (Refuge in Mexico. Between history and contemporary challenges), more than 100,000 people had already used this country in their attempts in 2000. These figures have increased fivefold in the first 20 years of the 21st century.

In reality, none of Mexico’s neoliberal governments, from Miguel de la Madrid to Enrique Peña Nieto, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, Ernesto Zedillo, Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, had an independent migration policy or support for these people. There was no support despite the presence of specialised organisations and offices of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Even so, and despite the indifference of these governments to the degrading treatment of Mexican braceros and workers in the United States, the idea of a border fence began to be implemented under Democrat William Clinton (1993-2001).

Since then, each president has raised his share, although the biggest publicity boom was with Donald Trump.

The northern border was López Obrador’s hot potato because of the Republican administration’s full-throated pressure to round up caravans from the Central American northern triangle in the south and not let them reach the north, and he threatened a tariff trade war that would have been devastating for the Mexican economy.

Tapachula, on the border with Guatemala, became the epicentre of migration instead of Tijuana on the Californian border.

Trump also took advantage of the circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic, very badly handled by his government, to declare a health emergency in the southern territory with a decree he called Title 42, which served as a stick to support his policy of forcing migrants to wait in Mexican territory for the results of their legal entry into the country.

The Quédate en México policy was an embarrassment to a country of immigrants like the United States and disrespectful of Mexican sovereignty.

A growing diaspora

All these obstacles made it easier to create the conditions for the increasingly massive caravans of migrants to be organised from deep within Central America and for the exodus to break through every known barrier.

The so-called Northern Triangle (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador) became sadly famous as an expression of the diaspora caused by hunger, misery and violence.

The caravans became a defence mechanism for tens of thousands of people to protect themselves from adversity and fortify themselves against the threats and crimes of the criminal gangs that thrived along the routes chosen by the migrants to reach the Río Bravo, as one of their organisers, Luis García Villagrán, explained.

However, the pressure from these quotas was on the Mexican government, not the US government.

Unfortunately, however, the idea of the caravans does not work out well for them, because when they finish their long journey, decimated and in pain, very few manage to get through to the US immigration offices to try to regularise their status.

Others die in the waters of the Rio Bravo trying to swim across, the trails of coyotes, or suffocated as in the trailer in Texas, as admitted by the Mexican National Migration Institute (INM).

Tensions between Mexico and the USA

For Mexico, the deeper causes of the exodus are clear and President López Obrador never tires of repeating them, first to Trump, then to Joe Biden, but neither of them did anything to combat them and all the answers, from one or the other, are pure rhetoric.

In several of his morning lectures, López Obrador insists that if they are not given permanent work, protection from criminal violence, food security, doctors and medicines, education and recreation, guarantees of physical integrity of the individual and the family, non-discrimination of any kind, respect and dignity, migration will never be a voluntary choice, but an act of desperation.

The Mexican leader proposed to the United States in the Trump era and now with Biden, to invest in the countries of the Northern Triangle and southern Mexico in economic and social development works, create jobs and satisfy the most pressing human needs so that people do not leave their place of origin and migration is an option, not an obligation.

Moreover, he proposed a major plan of action to organise and control migration according to the productive potential of the United States to supply labour for its manufacturing, construction and agricultural production industries, with the granting of temporary visas that could later become permanent, depending on the country’s labour needs. (PL)

(Translated by Cristina Popa – Email: Photos: Pixabay

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