Eunice Rendon is a professor at Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey, Mexico.
More than 247 million people live outside their countries of origin, including more than 20 million refugees. Migrants contribute to economies and communities and bring important benefits to countries in which they settle.
Since the suspension of the White House’s zero tolerance policy on illegal border crossing, the Honduran and Guatemalan exodus has increased dramatically. Every year more than 500,000 Central Americans cross into Mexico – many of whom continue their trek to the United States. The caravan that began earlier this month in Honduras includes people from El Salvador and Guatemala. Thousands are compelled to undertake a dangerous and exhausting journey, seeking a better life for themselves and their children, in a place safe from violence and poverty, and are slowly walking north.
U.S. President Donald Trump, instead of offering compassion, has turned the caravan into a midterm election issue to feed fear. On Monday, he tweeted: "This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!”
Of the estimated 7,000 people that initially joined the caravan, 25 per cent are children, and 10 per cent of those kids are unaccompanied. Last week, the Mexican government said the number of caravan migrants was down to 3,630 people, noting some had applied for asylum in Mexico or made the decision to return to their home countries.
Between 2013 and 2018 more than 150,000 unaccompanied children from Central American countries travelled through Mexico. The main reasons children flee are intimidation, persecution, threats, risk of forced recruitment by gangs, sexual harassment and, in some cases, the desire to reunite with their families in the United States. This group represents the most vulnerable segment of migrant population.
Most of the caravan is made up of candidates for asylum. Last week, Mr. Trump tweeted that migrants of the caravan should seek asylum in Mexico, in an attempt to press Mexico to act as a “safe third country,” despite its rejection in July of such an arrangement. The main reason the proposal was rejected is that Mexico is not a safe territory. Furthermore, we don’t have the capacity to welcome all the migrants that the United States and Mr. Trump’s racist decisions are seeking to reject.
Used as a retaining wall to enforce immigration policies and rising deportations from Mexico to Central American countries, Mexico is doing the United States’ dirty work. Members of the caravan should be allowed to reach the border and request asylum from American authorities, which is their real wish.
The kind of rhetoric heard from Mr. Trump and his fellow Republicans raises illogical xenophobic fears of an invasion by foreigners from faraway places. But in reality, since Mr. Trump became president, the Latin American population in the United States – those who come from the same places as those in the caravan – has suffered an increase in hate crimes against them. San Pedro Sula, Honduras, the origin of this caravan, is one of the most violent cities in the world, with 187 murders for every 100,000 people. Gangs, drugs and poverty plague this city every day. Aging is now a privilege, not a right. Migrants suffer difficult lives and deserve our protection and empathy.
Mexico has its own security problems and agenda and should not adopt Mr. Trump’s call to police the caravan. Instead, the protection of human rights and an attitude of solidarity, empathy and respect is needed. Rather than sending enforcement to the southern border of Mexico and spending significant resources on this effort, Mexican authorities should design policies that focus on special zones to develop social and productive projects, including for those who continue to transit or who have been deported from the United States. These people have enormous challenges in their assimilation and reintegration to our country (200,000 every year since 2007). Mexico must also adopt a leading position in Central America to defend regional interests and people.
President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador offered to develop a policy that ensures the security of migrants and which would offer work visas to Central Americans. In order to accomplish his strategy, new institutions and migration policies are needed. Political change in Mexico is an opportunity to rethink and evaluate the enormous challenges and changes that our foreign and migration policies requires. Mexico should act with sovereignty and dignity and establish its own priorities in the bilateral relationship – and not be the wall for the United States.