Mexico Needs a Better Asylum System

Militarization of the border is not the answer.

In June 2019, in an effort to stem migration from Central America, through Mexico and ultimately to the United States, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced the deployment of soldiers from the newly formed Mexican National Guard to Mexico’s northern and southern borders. While President López Obrador had initially created the National Guard to combat Mexico’s staggeringly high homicide rates, it is increasingly focused on issues of migration and asylum. 

Deployment of the National Guard to the borders was part of a deal struck between Mexico and the United States. The agreement came after U.S. President Trump threatened to increase tariffs on goods imported from Mexico by 5 percent, rising to 25 percent, until the Mexican government stemmed the flow of migrants to the United States. 

Over 20,000 National Guardsmen have been assigned to police Mexico’s northern and southern borders. Of the 20,000, around 6,000 have been sent to police the border with Guatemala. In this region, they have been focused on preventing migrants from crossing into Mexico. Since the National Guard’s arrival at the border, interceptions, detentions and deportations have increased significantly. There are serious concerns about the contrast between these measures and Mexican law and previously articulated policy on reception of asylum seekers. 

Along the U.S.-Mexico border, more than 15,000 National Guardsmen have been deployed. They are tasked with curtailing the flow of migrants, deterring smugglers and ultimately enforcing the highly contentious Migration Protection Protocols policy, often referred to as the “Remain in Mexico” policy.  

By making the decision to deploy National Guardsmen to the border and thereby increase military presence, President López Obrador has effectively succumbed to a Trump administration framing of a humanitarian issue as an issue of national security. The Mexican government’s actions are also largely consistent with U.S. efforts to criminalize migration and asylum, as opposed to focusing attention on the issues that are causing people to leave their home countries.  

Resources could be far more effectively and humanely used in Mexico to dramatically enhance Mexican capacity to provide asylum and opportunities for Central Americans, and to provide meaningful shelter, protection, and other support for those seeking asylum in the United States but who, for a variety of reasons (including the “Remain in Mexico” policy), find themselves in Mexico. Instead, the Mexican government has acquiesced to pressures applied by the Trump administration, and neither Mexico nor many tens of thousands asylum seekers are better off.