Immigration News: March 20, 2023

Restrictive U.S. asylum rules have impacts far beyond U.S. borders. Other countries in the Americas, already struggling with far higher rates of immigration than the United States, are following the U.S. lead in implementing more restrictive policies and denying asylum. 

[Americas Quarterly] “Almost all countries in the Western Hemisphere are dealing with significantly increased migration over the past few years—and nations big and small are trying to figure out how to balance their humanitarian commitments to those fleeing displacement crises with a desire for clear and orderly pathways for people to cross borders. The number of immigrants living in Latin American and Caribbean countries has roughly doubled since 2010, and most of the region opted to provide a legal pathway for displaced migrants. But the pendulum appears to be swinging towards a desire for greater control of borders in the region, much as in the United States …

“However, if the U.S. measures end up restoring border control at the expense of asylum and legal pathways, many other countries will take it as a signal to pursue a more restrictive approach too. If so, this would undermine the impressive openness and pragmatism demonstrated by Latin American and Caribbean countries during this period of unusually high regional mobility. Colombia’s 10-year residency permit for Venezuelans is just one example; most countries in the region have tried to provide some form of legal status to those who were displaced, as well as access to schools. Many have also tried to regulate more routine migration flows with labor agreements that allow for seasonal work or regional mobility agreements that allow for legal movements across borders of nearby countries. A more restrictive approach would instead incentivize more irregular migration.”

U.S. asylum policy has a major impact on Mexican asylum policies. And despite Mexico’s good official asylum policy, the application of that policy remains problematic, and an increase in asylum applications has led to major delays and inability to process those applications. 

[Baker Institute] “The new proposed U.S. asylum regulation is already impacting Mexico’s domestic policy decisions. In late February 2023, COMAR launched a pilot program in the country’s southern states to try to expedite asylum denials for individuals who only apply for asylum in Mexico to receive documents that allow them to then more safely travel onward to the United States. These individuals ultimately abandon their asylum applications once they reach the U.S. border, putting unnecessary strain on Mexico’s struggling asylum system.

“Only a few weeks after the pilot program started, COMAR announced plans to suspend it. Under the U.S. asylum regulation proposed by the Biden administration, an individual will need to have been denied protection in a third country through which they transited in order to be eligible for asylum in the United States. COMAR fears that accelerating asylum denials may encourage more migrants to apply for asylum in Mexico — only to be denied — in order to apply for asylum in the U.S. under the premise that their initial claim was denied in Mexico. …

“INM has been accused of colluding with criminal networks,[23]and migrants and asylum seekers across Mexico are at increased risk of trafficking, exploitation, and even death.[24] One migrant shelter in Mexico City relayed the story of a group of Nicaraguan nationals who were ultimately trafficked while attempting to travel through Mexico; they were tricked by members of a cartel impersonating INM officials in the state of Veracruz.

“As long as corruption and lack of accountability remain unaddressed within the INM and Mexico’s other governmental institutions, Mexico should not be considered a safe third country to which to return migrants seeking asylum in the United States.” 

Many migrants who arrive in Mexico remain stuck there, unable to leave southern Mexico states without exit visas. In these poorest states of the country, they struggle to find work or shelter. Many end up harvesting and processing mangoes and other produce for the U.S. market, often faced with abusive employment conditions. 

[The Nation] “The government ceased issuing routine exit visas in 2019 that had allowed migrants to reach the US border; migrants must now wait in the state where they’ve filed their immigration claim before they can continue on. As a result, countless people have been caught in a bureaucratic bottleneck, as Mexico’s immigration system struggles to process a surge in cases. It can take from three to six months for the documents to arrive, and it sometimes takes years. The Biden administration, which has overturned some of Trump’s more extreme immigration initiatives, has remained committed to this particular strategy, offering Mexico 2.5 million doses of the Covid vaccine and development money in exchange for its continued cooperation on immigration enforcement. No longer the primary source of immigrants to the US, Mexico has become part of America’s de facto border infrastructure.

“The result is that the migrant crisis that was once at the southern US border has been outsourced, over 2,000 miles away, to Tapachula. Mexican immigration officials detained over 444,000 migrants in 2022—a 30 percent increase from the year before. A report from September 2022 suggests that around 60,000 migrants are stranded in Tapachula. …

“The international press has described it as an “open-air prison.” Human Rights Watch has called the situation in Tapachula “truly horrifying” and urged the US and Mexico to change their “heavy-handed” immigration strategy. Each day, the streets outside Tapachula’s migration office fill with thousands of people waiting under the hot sun for an opportunity to meet with officials. Protests, hunger strikes, and clashes with police are common.”

Mexico’s asylum system is underfunded and understaffed for the growing numbers of asylum seekers. The number of asylum applications increased from  1,296 in 2014 to 129,791 in 2021.

[National Immigration Forum] “Mexico’s economic and demographic circumstances are not ideally positioned to absorb large numbers of refugees. Finally, Mexico itself has systemic problems with gang and gender-based violence, undermining it as a destination country for asylum seekers fleeing gang and gender-based violence. …

“Despite some recent strides, Mexico’s asylum system is struggling to keep up with the massive uptick in hemispheric migration over the past half-decade, and Mexican economic and demographic numbers pose challenges to absorbing large numbers of asylum seekers. Persistent struggles with domestic violence and gang violence also pose a challenge in serving as refuge for those fleeing similar violence in their countries of origin.

“Across the U.S.-Mexico border, the Biden administration’s newly proposed rule that would force many U.S. asylum seekers to first apply for asylum in Mexico will only further strain the Mexican asylum system” 

Like the United States, Brazil has seen a large in-migration over the past decade. 

[The World] “This year marks the fifth anniversary of the massive migration of Venezuelans. Since 2018, more than 7 million people have fled the country due to political chaos and economic collapse. About 400,000 of them went to Brazil, where they have struggled to find jobs and learn a new language. …

“’We weren’t prepared to receive such a large number of migrants, and people don’t stop coming,’ said Carolina Nunes, manager of operations and partnerships at the nonprofit Refúgio 343 in Brazil. 

“’It’s really a crisis. A crisis that keeps happening and doesn’t stop.’ 

“Refúgio 343 helps migrants with education, health services and they partner with companies to find people jobs.

“Brazil has an unemployment rate of 7.9%. That’s half of what it was in 2020, but that doesn’t mean migrants can get good jobs.

“Nunes said many migrants end up working in the meatpacking industry, a sector that has challenges recruiting Brazilians because of the tough nature of the work.”

And in other news

A Florida judge blocked the Biden administration from releasing immigrants into the country with parole-plus-monitoring devices and directions to report to an immigration office. The practice had been used for a time as an alternative to the somewhat more time-consuming normal practice of giving a Notice to Appear (NTA), which gave a specific time and court date for a removal hearing. 

[Tampa Bay Times] “Immigration activists called on the administration to appeal the ruling, warning that the elimination of the policy could lead to overcrowding at border crossings and risk overwhelming U.S. border patrol.

“Department of Homeland Security officials declined to comment on the decision. But agency statistics show that use of the program has dropped substantially over the past year, down from over 130,000 cases being handled through the program to just 28 in February of this year.” 

Why do adolescents migrate? Violence is a major reason, especially for girls. 

[Plan International] “In the context of poverty, structural violence and direct violence in the family and at community and educational level, migration is practically the only alternative for adolescents to be able to afford a better future. …

“Of those surveyed, 1 in 5 adolescents (19.1%) think that sexual or gender-based violence is a reason to migrate, and 29.8% think that violence is a reason to migrate ‘depending on gender.'” 

The Biden administration has resumed deportations to Russia, in the middle of the war. Some U.S. immigration authorities have ruled that “fear of conscription” does not qualify as “credible fear” or grounds for asylum. Others have ruled that it does. 

[The Guardian] “Immigration advocates were taken by surprise when a young Russian man, who came to the US fleeing Vladimir Putin’s efforts to mobilize citizens to fight in Ukraine, was abruptly deported at the weekend from the US back to Russia.

“He was among several Russian asylum seekers, many of whom have made their way to the US in the last year, who are now terrified the US government will return them to Russia where they could face prison or be sent rapidly to the frontline, where Russia has seen tens of thousands of casualties. …

“News of resumed deportations to Russia came just over a year after reports that the Biden administration had suspended deportation flights to Russia, Ukraine and seven other countries in Europe during Russia’s attack on Ukraine.”

Migrant workers are frequent targets for wage theft by employers. When those workers leave the country, voluntarily or not, they have had little or no recourse. That may be about to change.

[Reuters] “U.S. and Mexican officials on Tuesday said 13,000 Mexican migrant workers are owed a total of $6.5 million in unpaid wages from U.S. workplaces, and will work to help beneficiaries now living in Mexico claim their pay from U.S. labor authorities. …

“The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, which enforces labor law and recovers unpaid wages, determined who was owed back-wages through its inspections of U.S. workplaces, Mexico’s Labor Ministry said in a statement.

“It will share a list of names with Mexican officials so they can attempt to locate the workers – many of whom had not been paid the legal minimum, or had not been paid for overtime.”

About Mary Turck

News Day, written by Mary Turck, analyzes, summarizes, links to, and comments on reports from news media around the world, with particular attention to immigration, education, and journalism. Fragments, also written by Mary Turck, has fiction, poetry and some creative non-fiction. Mary Turck edited TC Daily Planet,, from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. She is also a recovering attorney and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.
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