How the US is outsourcing border enforcement to Mexico

Luis Gómez Romero @CatchNews | First published: 1 December 2016, 19:33 IST
How the US is outsourcing border enforcement to Mexico

In describing the complex relationship between the two countries, Jeffrey Davidow, American ambassador to Mexico from 1998 to 2002, spoke of "the bear and the porcupine". The US is an arrogant bear, brawny and insensitive to Mexico's concerns. Mexico is a resentful porcupine, paranoid about American plots to undermine its sovereignty.

Davidow candidly noted that the bear could crush the porcupine, but every time it has tried to, the porcupine's sharp spines have hurt the bear's big paws.

This analogy remains pertinent. During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump strategically chose Mexico and Latin America as his straw men, characterising Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug dealers, threatening to build a border wall and capping off his win by confirming plans to deport up to three million undocumented Latino migrants.

In this contemporary parallel of Davidow's comparison, the evil porcupine keeps injuring the trusting and innocent bear. But in truth, for the last few years, the porcupine has been doing the bear a big favour by guarding its expansive lair.

Border patrol goes down Mexico way

All the attention on Mexico's northern border and US immigration policy has overshadowed ongoing violence and deportations related to migrants who have crossed Mexico's southern border with Guatemala and Belize.

These have seen a sharp rise since 2014, when the Mexican government announced the implementation of the Programa Frontera Sur (Southern Border Program). The policy's key declared objectives were to bring order to migration into Mexico's southern region while protecting the human rights of migrants who enter and travel through the country.

But implementation has gone off course. In 2013, Mexico deported 80,709 immigrants. In 2014, that figure increased 35% to 107, 814.

Mexico decriminalised undocumented entry into its territory in 2008. Yet it has also increased patrols throughout areas where migrants travel and conducted controversial raids, which human rights organisations have described as hunting parties, to detain migrants in remote places.

Enforcement has changed migration routes but hasn't deterred migrants. Instead, the Southern Border Program has dispersed them, making them more vulnerable to extortionists, rapists, and thieves.

Children, sent away by desperate parents trying to get them away from gang violence, are among the most affected groups. In 2014, 18,169 migrant children were deported from Mexico. This represents a 117% increase from the 8,350 returned to Central America in 2013.

Children not immediately deported are locked up in detention centres. From January 2015 to July 2016, 39,751 unaccompanied minors were "secured" by Mexican authorities.

The US has enthusiastically greeted Mexico's new immigration policies. In January 2015, US President Barack Obama celebrated "strong efforts by Mexico, including at its southern border" that had helped reduce Central American migration into the US "to much more manageable levels".

From an instrumental standpoint, Obama's praise makes sense. In 2014, some 69,000 unaccompanied children were stopped at the US border. The resulting humanitarian crisis was an embarrassing public relations mess.