Mexico slows illegal migration to avoid U.S. tariffs

Mexico is making strides in slowing the tide of illegal migrants from Central America to American borders, raising hopes among free trade advocates that President Donald Trump will not impose new tariffs as threatened. 

In June, Trump suddenly announced he would add a 5 percent tariff for all goods purchased from Mexico if it did not stem the crush of migrant families and others fleeing to the U.S.  

Mexico quickly beefed up enforcement. It deployed thousands more troops in border regions, added checkpoints to search cars and buses, and stepped up raids of hotels, buses and freight trains known as La Bestia that are used by migrants heading north.   

Other efforts are helping as well. Mexican leaders agreed to allow U.S. asylum seekers to wait on the Mexican side. Guatemalan officials agreed to deny asylum claims from El Salvadorans and Hondurans crossing through its countryside on their way to America.

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol are also taking measures to improve conditions on the border and more quickly process asylum seekers.  

Numbers finally dropping 

For now, the efforts appear to be making a difference. Mexican immigration officials announced migrants have slowed by 39 percent since May. U.S. Customs officials report border crossings have dropped 43 percent during that time, Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said recently at a hearing in Washington. 

McAleenan said DHS is working with El Salvador and Panama as well to protect migrants who need asylum while making an “aggressive effort” against human smugglers. 

Here’s what’s developed:

Apprehensions in Mexico doubled In July, Mexican immigration authorities reported detaining 18,758 migrants, more than double the number apprehended last year at the same time, according to Mexican immigration authorities. 

U.S. border crossings down The U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced that border crossings dropped below 100,000 for the first time in five months. In July, 82,049 people were encountered, a 21 percent drop from June’s total of 104,344.

Fewer families in detention Families in detention and average custody times have also dropped significantly at border facilities, McAleenan said. There had been about 10,000 families in custody. Now, there are 2,000, Secretary McAleenan said. Single adults are down from 8,000 to about 2,000. Children in custody have dropped from about 1,250 in June who were held for 72 hours or longer to about 160 with an average custody time of less than a day. 

While the numbers are lower, it does not mean the border crisis is fixed, McAleenan said.

“The situation is improving by every available metric, but, and I want to be very clear about this, we remain at and beyond crisis levels,” McAleenan said. “While our efforts are working, the volume of migrants crossing our southern border remain at crisis levels. To address this crisis, we will continue to collaborate with our international partners and seek the targeted fixes to our immigration laws from Congress.”

Paving the way to save North America’s free trade bloc

If the trend continues, trade advocates hope this will further smooth the way for U.S. ratification of a new free trade agreement that preserves one of the most powerful trading blocs in the world between the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

The agreement – the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement – would carry on the free trade practices that have sustained the region for 25 years under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). USMCA updates the original version, adding chapters and provisions to address modern age topics like digital trade, cyber theft and protection of intellectual property.

All three countries top lawmaking bodies must ratify the agreement before it is law.

Mexico was the first to do so. Canada announced it is likely to as well. In the U.S., congressional members are meeting with trade representatives to fine tune and strengthen certain provisions that have to do with enforcement of labor reforms and environmental rules and policies that could impact pharmaceutical prices. 

Victoria Harker

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