Trump finally finds a way to stick it to Mexico, but hold off the cheers
Opinion: A policy to keep Central American migrants in Mexico may seem like good news. But for the most part, it's not.
President Donald Trump finally found a way to stick it to Mexico and give his anti-immigrant supporters a holiday gift.
Furious over his failure to force Mexico pay for his border wall, Trump this week made Mexico the official dumping ground of Central American migrants seeking asylum in the United States.
Yes. Stunningly and over the outcry of immigrant rights activists and legal experts, the Trump administration unilaterally decided to dump the asylum seekers into Mexican territory while U.S. authorities process their requests.
Until now, people with credible claims of fleeing violence or persecution, for instance, were allowed to remain in the United States until judges decide their fates – which often takes years.
Equally stunning was Mexico’s takedown of Trump’s moves. The country’s new president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, didn’t agree to the deal. But his administration effectively went ahead with it nonetheless by agreeing to grant visas to those sent back by U.S. authorities.
How will this work? No one knows
That’s good news for both countries, right? Not necessarily.
First, Mexico doesn’t have the capacity or desire to handle the Central American migrants. Take, for instance, the thousands camping out in the border city of Tijuana after trekking across Mexico in a caravan in their attempt to seek refuge in the U.S.
By all accounts, the camp is in terrible shape, with all sorts of sanitary and safety problems.
On Thursday, Mexican officials appeared divided, puzzled and unprepared to handle the logistics of such a swiftly arrived and unprecedented migrant policy.
Legal experts immediately decried Trump’s move as illegal, signaling yet another court battle against the White House.
Under the new policy that takes effect immediately, the asylum seekers awaiting in Mexico would be allowed access to U.S. legal representation and could cross the border to appear in U.S. court.
But nobody – in either country – appears to know exactly how that would work in practice. Would the migrants be able to work anywhere in Mexico and cross into the U.S. at any point of the 2,000-mile border? How would the migrants have access to U.S. lawyers?
U.S. officials said in a call with reporters that details are yet to be worked out. Yeah, good luck with that.
Migrants aren't going to stay in Mexico
Second and perhaps most importantly, the Central Americans don’t want to stay in Mexico. Does anyone seriously believe these people who are risking everything to flee their poor and violence-prone countries will actually stay put?
If they wanted to stay in Mexico they would have done so already, said a few Central American migrants who were dropped off at a Phoenix church on Thursday.
“There is no way. No way we would stay in Mexico,’’ said 25-year-old Guatemalan Joselin Herrera Martínez, who was dropped off at a south Phoenix church with about 130 others Thursday.
Joselin is perhaps among the last group of “catch and release” migrants, but her husband and the couple’s 22-month-old baby may not be as lucky.
Joselin, who said they left their country because they couldn’t pay the thugs extorting them, said Thursday she doesn’t know her husband and the child’s whereabouts since they were split in the border city of San Luis Rio Colorado a few days ago.
She breaks into uncontrollable sobbing talking about her child. But she’s firm on one thing – she would rather risk it with the thugs back home or go underground in the U.S. than stay in Mexico.
“We wouldn’t survive Mexico,” said Joselin, who didn’t travel with the caravan camping out in Tijuana. “It’s worse than home.”
Trump's gift to border hawks isn't real
And all you have to do is pay closer attention to the migrants’ plight in Tijuana to know Joselin is right.
The migrants, some of whom were teared-gassed recently when they made a run for the U.S. border, complain of inhumane conditions at the Mexican shelter. Others camping out are facing all sorts of dangers – two of them were found murdered this week.
In other words, it’ll be nearly impossible to willingly keep them out of the U.S. Thus, Trump’s new policy may feel like a gift, but it is not real.
López Obrador, who took office Dec. 1, may dodge an immediate political backlash because of the holidays and the $10.6 billion that the U.S. pledged this week toward curbing migration from Central American countries.
That is a good step toward helping Central American countries improve their economy and keep people there.
But any future economic boost is too late for the thousands of migrants already fleeing their homeland. And they'll make a run for the U.S. border – at any cost and by any means.
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