The actions of Mexican officials on Sunday were little-noticed in the United States. They shouldn’t be ignored, though.
Police and border agents broke up a caravan involving several hundred migrants who had gathered in southern Mexico in an attempt to reach the United States. While much is made in some quarters about the caravans and how they might potentially affect our country, Sunday’s events underscore the reality that these events are an international concern.
Mexico, of course, faces pressure from the United States on this issue. The U.S. has rejected thousands of would-be immigrants, and federal courts have maintained a Trump-era policy of requiring many asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while their cases are considered.
That policy may ease pressure on American resources, but it shifts the burden to Mexico.
While the United States may be the destination for most, Mexico is the road by which the migrants seek to travel. And some abandon the trek. More than 77,000 people have sought refuge in Mexico.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has said the basic strategy of blocking caravans in southern Mexico is not a long-term solution, and that more help is needed to keep people from leaving their home countries in the first place.
It’s not just people from Central America who are making this trip. Thousands of migrants in Tapachula are primarily composed of people from Haiti, which was recently hit with a devastating earthquake.
It is clear that no one nation has the solution here. U.S. policy has varied considerably over the past several decades. None of the changes have altered the fundamental issue of illegal immigration. Mexican officials, often blamed for their own residents making the crossing without permission, face their own crisis as people from nations in Central and South America enter. Those nations, in turn, are ill-equipped to stem those losses.
If no one nation has the ability to implement a solution, all of those involved must talk and seek cooperation. That will not be easy.
While Americans often see relations with other countries through a lens of U.S. policy, we must also bear in mind that we’re not talking about bilateral history. We’re wading through generations of international rivalries, mistrust and failed policies. There isn’t one layer of tension involved — there are many.
There’s probably not a single solution to be found, anyway. There will have to be multiple solutions. The reasons people leave their home countries may have parallels with poverty, lack of opportunity and violence, but they aren’t identical. The underlying reasons for those issues can vary significantly, and they have changed over generations.
Mexico and Colombia provide good examples of those changes. When many Americans think of the latter, they think of the drug trade. But that has declined and the long-running conflict between the Colombian government and FARC, a guerilla organization that sought to overthrow the government, has largely ended.
Mexico, on the other hand, saw corruption and poverty drive migration for decades. Today, violence from drug cartels is a significant factor. The Jalisco cartel, one of the most aggressive, is only about 11 years old. It’s a different challenge than what Mexico faced in prior generations.
If the United States fails to recognize that there are different causes for the migration crisis, we won’t be able to effectively communicate with the governments that well know the challenges they face. If the American people don’t understand those causes, they’re much less likely to back government efforts to resolve them.
This is not a one-dimensional issue. In truth it never has been. We have to understand that before we can find solutions.
It is, unquestionably, a crisis. The caravans and camps are hardly conducive to education for the children involved or sanitation for anyone. Those who enter the United States illegally are at high risk of being taken advantage of. When employers or landlords know people are afraid of reporting abuse because of their immigration status, they are much more likely to impose untenable conditions on people. There are other concerns, of course. People worry about the effects on jobs and hiring. But to us the humanitarian situation stands above all else.
This isn’t a crisis for one nation. It is a regional crisis. And it demands regional solutions.