Home Headlines Latin American migration summit: Mexico faces an unprecedented crisis

Latin American migration summit: Mexico faces an unprecedented crisis

by Yucatan Times
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Mexico arrives at the summit on migration with Latin American and Caribbean presidents to be held this Sunday in Chiapas in an unprecedented crisis.

The figures handled by the National Migration Institute (INM) have broken historical records. In August 2023, the latest numbers available, there were 83,725 arrests, more than in any other month in recent times. The current president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, according to the NGOs, has not successfully overcome the difficult mission of improving the conditions of transit or stay in the country, which has embroiled migrants in a spiral of violence and lack of basic rights.

López Obrador’s difficult ballot this Sunday at the Palenque summit is to seek a joint response to reduce the flow of people crossing Central America and arriving in Mexico. To this end, he has summoned the heads of state of 11 countries, including Honduras, Haiti, Cuba, Venezuela, El Salvador, and Guatemala, the places of origin of most of the migrants arriving in Mexican territory. Nicaragua, whose nationals also arrive massively in the country, was not invited. However, the most important absence is that of a nation that has marked the policy of López Obrador’s six-year term in terms of immigration: the United States. As of September 2023, the U.S. government has detained more than two million people at the border with Mexico, a figure that is about to surpass that of 2022.

Gretchen Kuhner has been in the country for 25 years and belongs to the Institute for Women in Migration (IMUMI), a civil society organization that promotes the rights of women in migration in Mexico. For her, “López Obrador’s rhetoric at the beginning was good,” accompanied by programs that sought to improve conditions for migrants in Mexico such as Sembrando Vida and Jóvenes Construyendo el futuro.

Kuhner explains that “everything began to change in 2019 when they let Donald Trump’s administration bring the migration issue into the bilateral relationship.” First, the tycoon approved in January a plan called Stay in Mexico!” used to return migrants in heat from the United States. In June, the former U.S. president threatened to impose harsh tariffs on Mexican products if thousands of migrants continued to arrive at the border between the two countries. Mexico’s then Foreign Affairs Secretary, Marcelo Ebrard, had to travel to Washington D.C. to negotiate a diplomatic solution, which ended with the deployment of the National Guard on Mexico’s northern and southern borders. Trump assured last August that he forced the Government of López Obrador to give him “28,000 free soldiers”.

From that moment on, this resource is used every time migrants flock to the country and arrive at the border with the United States. With the current president, Joe Biden, the bilateral relationship with López Obrador has improved, but the figures with which the Mexican president arrives at the summit with Latin American and Caribbean countries are the highest of the entire six-year term.


Never before have so many migrants been apprehended as this August 2023. INM data show what have been the peaks of “events”, a euphemism used by the public institution to refer to detentions. After Ebrard’s meeting with the United States and the deployment of the National Guard on the border, 30,971 people were apprehended in June 2019, a number that went down and hit lows after the start of the pandemic.

The post-COVID normalization caused many people to leave their homes to embark on the dangerous adventure of reaching the United States, especially in Central America, which has been hard-hit economically by the passage of the virus. In September 2021, the Ministry of National Defense deployed 140,993 troops following the announcement of a fourth migrant caravan that was to travel through Mexico from the Guatemalan border to the northern tip of the country. That month, 46,717 people were detained.

Another important juncture of this six-year term was the end last May of Title 42, a political instrument that Donald Trump decreed at the beginning of the COVID pandemic to immediately expel migrants arriving at the U.S. border. Since its extinction, thousands of people arrived at the northern border of Mexico to cross into the neighboring country. Since May 12, migrant apprehensions have experienced an abrupt rise that has left the historical record this August, with 83,725 “events”.


The increase in detentions so far this six-year term has led to numerous deportations. In the last five years, Mexico has returned 507,309 people to their country, many of them forced to leave for humanitarian reasons. This year, despite the high number of migrant apprehensions, deportations have dropped significantly, especially since March.

The Mexican government has accelerated the returns again this October after having talked with many of the leaders of the countries that will attend the summit this Sunday. A statement issued on Monday by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) alerted the authorities to ensure that the safety of returned migrants is not at risk. Deportation figures for September and October will be known in the next two months.

Humanitarian Visas

The number of humanitarian visas issued by the current Executive is the highest of recent Mexican governments. This is the reason for this summit, which will be attended by the President of Honduras, Xiomara Castro; her Cuban counterpart, Miguel Díaz-Canel; and the Prime Minister of Haiti, Ariel Henry -despite the fact that this State is in a state of anarchy with a very weak government-. The population of these three countries represents more than 50% of the Humanitarian visitor cards issued in Mexico between 2018 and 2023.

This year will also surpass the record number of refugee applications in Mexico, as this year’s figures could reach 150,000, according to Andrés Ramírez Silva, director of the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance (COMAR). COMAR has been overwhelmed in places such as Tapachula, in Chiapas, where last September incidents were recorded due to the overcrowding of more than 6,000 people at the doors of the institution’s office. Mexico has only 10 offices of this body throughout the country.

Migrant centers

The United States has done a job of containing migrants by establishing “centers to manage the requests” of migrants in Colombia and Guatemala. “Mexico does not want this to happen in their country, but in Venezuela, Honduras, Panama” assures Gretchen Kuhner.

In September 2022, Mexico had space for 6,883 migrants in 57 migrant stations throughout the country, according to data collected by the civil organization IMUMI in the National Transparency Portal. But the government announced the closure of 33 following the tragedy that ended with the death of 40 migrants in a fire at an INM center in Ciudad Juarez, in the state of Chihuahua.

Normally, migrants wait in these centers to be processed, admitted into the country, or await asylum status in the United States. These shelters have been far outnumbered, and the fixed image in parts of the country such as Mexico City, Tapachula, Oaxaca, or Ciudad Juarez is that of hundreds of migrants sleeping on the streets in very vulnerable conditions. The other option is the NGO shelters, which make up for the shortcomings of the Mexican system.

Gemma Domínguez, general project coordinator for Médecins Sans Frontières in Mexico, recalls a similar situation in San Pedro de Tapanatepec, Oaxaca, a year ago. Some 15,000 migrants were stranded there, more than the population of the town. The big problem of these “bottlenecks” is the “complicated situations that are experienced”, in which many migrants do not have access to basic services such as food, water, or a bed.

In March, Mexico experienced the worst migratory tragedy in one of these INM shelters in Ciudad Juarez, a border city with the United States that has been overcrowded for most of the year. There, 40 people who had been locked in different cells to prevent them from reaching the U.S. border died as a result of a fire. The commissioner of the National Migration Institute, Francisco Garduño, continues to be charged for improper exercise of functions after the catastrophe and remains in his post while awaiting trial. Along with him, seven officials of the migratory station were brought to trial.

For Kuhner, this has been the lowest point of the current government’s immigration policy. The NGOs consulted want a new way of looking at migration to begin in the next six years, in which the central points of the issue are the rights of the people. And that work be done to find regular routes so that migrants do not have to expose themselves to the dangers of the route to the U.S. border. “When people can move, find work, send money, and know that they can move according to what they need, is when there will be integration in the region,” explains Kuhner. For the time being, this Sunday’s meeting proposed by López Obrador with Latin American and Caribbean countries will seek other solutions.

TYT Newsroom

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