Mexico and the US recently struck a migration deal aimed at reducing the number of refugees arriving in the US. The agreement consists of two main points. The first stipulates that the refugees who cross the border “illegally” wait in Mexico during the resolution of their asylum petitions. This practice, which is already in vigour, will be extended and made official. The second determines that Mexico deploys 6,000 troops to “protect” its border with Guatemala.
The negotiations started after Trump threatened to impose a 5% tax on all Mexican exports to the US if the Latin American country failed to reduce the number of Central American refugees crossing its territory.
The agreement is inhumane. It breaches the right to asylum and several international treaties on migration. Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) ensures the right to seek and enjoy asylum in other countries for anyone fleeing poverty, violence, or political persecution. If a person finds herself in such a situation, she has the right to move to another country and make her case before a court.
Trump is once more weaponising refugees in order to push his conservative agenda forward. His “border crisis” narrative, in part assimilated by members of the two main American parties, does not find grounds if contrasted with facts. An important portion of the media also echoed this narrative, as Roberto Lovato showed in Media plays into Trump’s narrative on migrant caravan.
According to the Pew Research Centre, the estimated number of unauthorised immigrants living in the US reached a 12-year low in 2016 (10.7 million). The Obama administration alone deported more than 3 million people from 2009 to 2016. Official data show that most of the immigrants arrive in the US through legal ports of entry. Furthermore, demographic research indicates that, due to its ageing population, the US will need migrants in the coming years to complement its workforce. The “border crisis” narrative is just an ideological device employed to impose harsher immigration laws and over-exploit migrant workers by keeping their salaries and labour rights at lower levels.
Even though migration has increased in the last period, if we analyse its causes thoroughly, it becomes clear that US policies toward Latin America are in part responsible for it. As Roberto Saviano explains in The Migrant Caravan: Made in USA, the recent caravans are “the biggest anti-mafia march the world has ever seen”. Is the US to blame for poverty and violence in Latin America? The Italian journalist answers the question by looking at how the War on Drugs campaign, launched in 1971 by Nixon, increased the levels of violence in the region and, as a consequence, the number of people seeking refuge in North America.
In a recent Op-Ed piece for the New York Times, a political commentator stated that American money finances the drug cartels, American users consume the drugs produced in Mexico and Colombia, and the American government funds the weapons used to fight the drug war. Trump cannot ignore all that and blame Mexico for the recent migration wave.
But American interference in Latin American affairs transcends by far the War on Drugs campaign. Several US administrations encouraged – and in some cases financed – coup d’ états that established pro-American dictatorships that reduced political freedoms and produced refugees. Brazil and Chile are only two examples of it.
As Steven Mayers and Jonathan Freedman put it in the introduction of the recently-published Solito, Solita, “in the name of fighting communism, the United States intervened in Central America, overthrowing a democratic regime in Guatemala, and backing right-wing dictatorships, in El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua.”
In the 60s, as the Washington Post reported, “the United States was intimately involved in equipping and training Guatemalan security forces that murdered thousands of civilians in the nation’s civil war.” In the 80s, the Reagan administration financed the right-wing paramilitary guerrilla known as Contras, which committed multiple human rights violations in Nicaragua.
Even worse perhaps, US-backed regimes maintained Latin American countries in a state of underdevelopment that had a significant impact on the living conditions of large populations. American capital benefits enormously from the economic dependency underpinning the social chaos that produces the current South-North flow of immigrants. Dependency theories derived in several Latin American universities described this process in detail.
Immigration is associated with decades of violence (including state violence) and poverty, which on their part are linked to American meddling in Latin American affairs.
On the other hand, the US-Mexico deal has striking similarities with the agreement signed in 2016 by the European Union (EU) and Turkey to prevent refugees (mostly Syrians) from crossing over to Greece. At the time, many NGOs described it as a “shameful pact.” The EU regards it as a great success, as it drastically reduced the flow of refugees to the Aegean islands. The numbers plunged from almost one million in 2015 to less than 30,000 in 2017.
Under that agreement, the EU would give more than £2.3 bn to the Erdogan administration in exchange for its commitment to bar refugees from leaving its coasts to Europe. Also, migrants arriving in Greece would be sent back to Turkey if they did not apply for asylum in Greece – many wished to continue their journey to Germany or Sweden, for example -, or if their case was rejected. Advocacy groups argued back then that the pact failed to put an end to the smuggling mafias. They added that the conditions endured by refugees in Turkish and Greek camps deteriorated since the deal came into force.
The US-Mexico pact is likely to make the lives of those trying to seek asylum in the US an even greater hell. These people flee from violence, unemployment, poverty, state violence, and drug cartels. During their journey to the US, they face police brutality, abusive smugglers, and hostile governments. This new, shameful pact relies purely on repression and it will fail to cease migration, as its causes are much deeper than narrow-minded politicians and bureaucrats think.